Sunday, November 5, 2017

e.g., URBAN VERBS: D.C. City Sound [1980]

Text by Julia Masi / FFanzeen fanzine, 1980
Introduction text © Robert Barry Francos/FFanzeen, 2017
Images from the Internet

This article was originally printed in FFanzeen, issue #5, dated August / September 1980, by Managing Editor Julia Masi.

The Urban Verbs released two albums on Warner Bros., and then broke up about a year after this was published. With a cult status and fans, they continue to occasionally get together for reunion gigs, mostly in D.C. – Robert Barry Francos, 2017.

On their recent East Coast tour, Roddy Franz, lyricist and singer of the Urban Verbs, sat in his room at New York’s Gramercy Park Hotel smoking cigarettes and talking about the band’s music.

“I don’t mean this in an egotistical way,” he apologizes as he cites their music as “a little more thoughtful. It has a lot of integrity. We haven’t tried to deliberately commercialize.” Instead, the Urban Verbs have worked at presenting something that is artistically successful as well as entertaining. They strive for a “certain level of sophistication embodied in our music.”

But Franz is quick to shy away from descriptions that might label their music. “It’s rock’n’roll,” he explained, “Most of the other terms are just so nebulous at this point. I think at one point New Wave was distinguishable from punk, perhaps it still is, but New Wave itself has just become such a nebulous sort of journalistic handle, as ‘hippies’ was; it is no longer that clear. I would just like people to think of us as a rock’n’roll band.”

But the Urban Verbs is more than just an ordinary band. Although they’re not yet an overnight success, their career has taken off at a rather rapid pace. They have the rare distinction of originating in Washington, D.C., where Franz and composer-guitarist Robert Goldstein [d. 2016 – RBF], both natives of Pittsburgh, had been working in bands. Franz was with a group called the Controls and Goldstein was in the Look. Both bands broke up around the same time, so Franz and Goldstein teamed up to form a band that would eventually record. They picked up their drummer, Danny Frankel, bass player Linda France, and Robin Rose on synthesizer from a cover band that played at local parties. For a while, they billed themselves as the Special Guest Band before they changed their name to Urban Verbs.

In the summer of 1978, they came to New York to do a gig at CBGB. There they met Brian Eno, who produced their two-song demo. Their debut album, Urban Verbs, on Warner Bros. Records, is being well-received in Italy, London and Paris. It’s expected to do just as well here.

Lately, the band has been touring. They had the option of going out with another, possibly bigger name band, but prefer to go it alone on small regional tours. “We work better with a more intimate setting of 150 to 300 people. You get more than that and it just changes the nature of the performance.”

The group’s primary concern is their music. Franz stated, “I don’t think performers should necessarily be politicians or Bible thumpers. I think we, rather than trying to proselytize, create and give enough of an impression for people to make their own decisions. We don’t really have a single message we want to convey.”

Inspiration for songs “comes in different forms. Sometimes,” says Franz, “I’ll write simply because I think we need a new song. If you don’t always have something that you’re working on, you get stale. Other times people or situations will inspire me. ‘Tina Gray’ was written for my sister-in-law. Different things at different times. Being in love is good to write about.”

But on the opposite side of the coin, Franz has written “Luca Brasi,” for a character from the movie The Godfather, who “sleeps with the fishes,” Granz explained. “Luca was the Godfather’s personal bodyguard for 20 years. He got a knife through his hand and was dumped in the East River.” After recalling the scene in the film where a dead fish wrapped in newspaper was dropped off on the Corleone steps, Franz smiled with ha twinkle in his blue eyes and said, “I just thought it was a neat image.”

Friday, November 3, 2017

Photo Essay: Lecture by Dr. Eric McLuhan, St. Thomas More College, November 2, 2017

Text and photos (c) Robert Barry Francos/FFanzeen, 2017
Title photo from St. Thomas More College Website

I've known Eric McLuhan and his son Andrew for a few years now, meeting up with them at Media Ecology Association conferences throughout the world. One would think that Eric would be stuck in the shadow of his father, Marshall, but for those of us who pay attention, he is a brilliant thinker in his own right.

Referencing Marshall, as we all do (and should), whether we realize it or not, Eric has risen to high academic circles on his own and risen to the academic stratosphere with his publications about media, religion, and culture in both solo projects as well as with others, such as a recent collaboration with Dr. Peter Zhang.

Eric comes across as a bit elfin and frail, walking with a cane and being soft-spoken, but I've also seen him give heck to other academics who he believes crosses the line of what he or his dad was positing in their writing, including recently with one who had collaborated with Marshall.

For this talk, his topic was "Catholicism and Communication: The Sensus Communis, Synesthesia, and the Soul." Marshall had famously adopted Catholicism in his adulthood, and raised his family in it, so it makes sense that this would be a topic Eric would cover on his talk for the 29th Annual Michael Keenan Memorial Lecture, in Father O'Donnell Auditorium, at St. Thomas More College, on the campus of the University of Saskatchewan, in Saskatoon.

As a non-Catholic, I still found it fascinating, and was happy to discuss it with him and Andrew at breakfast the next day.

[photo courtesy St. Thomas More College Website]

Eric McLuhan and Andrew McLuhan preparing.

Arul Kumaran, English Department Dean

Sarah Powrie, English Department Head



Tammy Marche, Associate Dean, Psychology Department

Friday, October 20, 2017

Making Computer Use a Bit Easier to Learn

You start here...
Text © Robert Barry Francos/FFanzeen, 2017
Images from the Internet

In my daily job, I help train people on how to use computers, mostly using the Microsoft Suite, but I also do a class on Basic Computing and using the Internet and Email.

For the latter, many of the people who come in are nervous because the computing world is new for them. Many are also well over 30 years old, and this is a whole new world. It is part of my job to reassure them, and give them confidence.

Though it seems like it is anti-intuitive, one of the first thing I let them know is that it is okay to be frustrated. In truth, no matter how beginner you are, or how proficient on computers, odds are a couple of times a week you are going to want to throw the machine out a window. This is normal, and it’s not just you, it’s everyone. I once said this to my class while a new intern was at a computer in the room, looking at the screen. He is a coder at a high level, and he even built his own computer from scratch. When I uttered those words, without even looking at me, he nodded his head in agreement. The fact of the matter is, even though this is true, the end results are worth it.

I’ve had a number of older students who get frustrated and complain that their kids can use the computer with ease, and the younger ones lose patience with them. What I do is remind them that they are now the age their own parents were when they had to be taught the VCR. I say, “Remember how mad that made you feel? ‘All you have to do is hold down Play and Record at the same time!’ That’s what their kids are feeling now.” Computers are more complex than the video player/recorder, so that amps up the anxiety. But a new user doesn’t need to feel that.

The biggest mistake in learning any software is to only follow the instructions. To explain, I’d like to present a true story: when I was eight years old, my mother brought home a portable Royal brand typewriter she had bought at work. The thing weighed nearly as much as I did at the time. When I showed interest in the machine, she gave me an official practice book to type from, that stood up on its own, so you could flip the pages. It had the usual “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog” and “The meeting with Mr. Johnson will be held at 1:00 PM” kinds of exercises.

Being a mere wisp of a lad, I found this to be quite boring, so instead, I started to type out song lyrics. I found that no matter how much I slowed it down in my head as I was typing, I could keep some sense of rhythm. I used Simon & Garfunkel, the Temptations, the Beach Boys, the Beatles, and whatever songs were either on the radio or the few Broadway show tunes LPs my parents had that I grew up on. This made it fun. When I was 10, I typed out the entire, “The Tell-tale Heart” by Edgar Allen Poe, still one of my favorite short stories to this day.

This exercise helped to make the task enjoyable enough for me to keep doing it, until I was typing at 55 words per minute, which is not an easy feat on a manual typewriter when one is a mere child.

It is not, however, just in typing that this can be employed as a learning tool. For example, if you need to improve your Microsoft Word skills, create something of your own. I suggest building a letter to your friends and family to let them know how you are doing (sometimes known as a “year-end letter”). Then add a photo, some borders, play with the fonts and spacing, and make it “pop.”

One student was having trouble with Excel, so over the summer, he made a list of every fish he caught, which lake it was snagged, what lure was used, and the weight of the fish. By this process he figured out which lure in what lake caught the biggest fish. He personalized it and made it interesting for himself, and then understood the process.

This is also true for the Internet. While you’re looking for jobs, for example, check out the location of the company. Figure out the best route using a Maps program (e.g., Google Maps), go to the Street View and see what the front of the building looks like. If you want to start even easier, go to a search engine and type in the name of your favorite musician/band, or actor.  When you find what you are looking for, try the different tabs, such as Images, News and Videos. Try searching for your own name and see what comes up. This is actually important to see what is displayed if you are looking for a job, because in today’s technological culture, there is an ever better chance that the possible employer will search your name than not.

Once you start getting comfortable with the computer, you can think more on what you’re searching for than how you got there. Much like a flashy guitarist does not think about what is being playing note-by-note but rather the hands “know” instinctively where to go to get the next note, typing and searching becomes more natural and reflexive. This will transfer over to when you do a task for a job, and make your life a bit easier and gain you more confidence.

I have done this myself, as well. The way I figured out how to use Absolute References in an Excel formula (e.g., $B$4), I applied it to my time sheet while I was still technically on contract per class. Now I use a timesheet (not mine) to explain how the formula works to my classes. I did a similar thing with Pivot Tables. I was trying to figure out what goes into which of the four boxes, so I made a list of every record review I’ve had published from 1977 through 2011 (came to over 2500), by listing (a) the Band, (b) the Name of Record, (c) the Type, such as 12”, 7”, Cas, digi, (d) the Record Label, (e) which magazine/fanzine/website published it, and (f) the date of publication. Then I was able to make lists, for example, of every band from a particular label I reviewed, and the name of the releases. To learn Word’s Mail Merge feature? I created a list for sending out my Year-End letter, and I figured out how to do it quickly, and then personalize any one I wanted.

Once a user can understand how it works on a personal level, it makes it easier to use in a more professional setting, or explain it to others, not just to do it yourself. It truly is a use-it-or-lose-it situation, so it is also helpful to remember that teaching others is a good way to aid learning and remembering the steps for yourself.
...And end here!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

POLYROCK: In Search of Playful Seriousness [1981]

Text by Stacy Mantel / FFanzeen, 1981
Introduction © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2017
Images from the Internet

This interview was originally published in FFanzeen, issue #7, dated 1981. It was written and conducted by then-FFanzeen Managing Editor, Stacy Mantel.

To be honest, I wasn’t a fan of Polyrock at the time, as I found them too…esoteric. The whole synthesizer/techno-guitar thing was lost of me, but Stacy was a big fan, hence the interview. I heard the albums back then, but never saw them live. However, I do have an indirect tale about them:

In the early 1980s, after this article appeared, I applied for a job as an Editor at a technology-based magazine, and was granted an interview. When I got there, I found out that it was produced by Al Goldstein [d. 2013], and the interview was in Screw Magazine’s office. The person interviewing me was the brother of a member of Polyrock. He knew who I was because of this piece, and said he was not going to give me the job as a favor to me, because having Screw Publications on a resume was not a plus, and Al was a hard person for whom to work. He did, however, show me Goldstein’s office, which was just packed with memorabilia. He warned me not to touch anything because despite the chaos, Goldstein knew if anything was moved. I thank him for that, even now, because he was absolutely correct.

As for Polyrock proper, they released two major-label albums on RCA, produced by Philip Glass, and disbanded a year after this interview was published, in 1982. Looking back, I can appreciate some of their releases more, such as “Bucket Rider,” but even today, the snyth/modulated material is still is not where my interest lies. – RBF, 2017

Polyrock is not unique, but then again, they are. It depends upon what angle you care to listen to them from, and how contaminated your musical background is.

Everyone is talking about them. Some are nervous, some elated, some speechless – but they are reacting. Polyrock themselves are doing the least talking. They are modest experimenters, trying to be a little different. Polyrock is: Billy Robertson, guitar / vocals; Tommy Robertson, lead guitar / electronics / violin; Lenny Aaron, keyboards; Curt Cosentino, bass machine / synthesizer; Joseph Yannece, drums / percussion / vocals; and Catherine Oblansey, vocals / percussion.

I spoke with Billy Robertson at the Rock Lounge, Saturday, February 28 of this year. He is very amiable and neat, and smiles freely. When we spoke, a lot of sentences were left open where words could not express certain artistic aims; sensibilities. For coherence, I had to punctuate in my mind and on paper. Personally, they’re probably best left unclosed, because in that, there is more understanding.

FFanzeen: In The [Village] Voice, John Picarella compared your sound to geometric paintings a la Mondrian. But when I listen to your music, I don’t think of harsh, stark lines; I feel it’s more impressionistic and imageful. What do you feel?
Billy Robertson: Well, it’s really hard to make a comparison to paintings or that kind of art, but I see it more as impressionistic. It’s also an immediate type of thing too, because it isn’t painting. Although when you go into the studio, you make a record and it’s a piece, but when it’s written, it’s sort of an act of aggression. The thing is to capture a live moment; an experience.

FFanzeen: What do you mean by “act of aggression”?
Billy: It’s a weird word – it’s a performance. I don’t mean aggressive as a negative or positive act of aggression or anything like that, but putting out something immediate – something with a certain amount of intensity. And it’s a performance. To answer your question more specifically, it’s more impressionistic than mechanical.

FFanzeen: It’s felt mostly on “Your Dragging Feet.”
Billy: Oh, yeah.

FFanzeen: It’s very hypnotic, almost like a mantra, because it’s somewhat repetitive.
Billy: It’s packaged sort of in a form; it has levels. It’s a very pretty song to me.

FFanzeen: The systems approach and Philip Glass’ music deals with similar types of repetition and levels.
Billy: That song has a lot more of that mode or side of us than any other song, and I think it’s something we really want to do; even in short pieces, and not so much a trance-piece, but something that’s very subtle and right there with the instrumentals. Some of the new stuff would make this clearer to you. That type of writing style started, for me anyway, when I listened to Brian Eno; I heard it in the Beatles and John Lennon songs like “I Am the Walrus.” And that’s what I like about Philip. When I first heard him I appreciated the repetition. He was an influence, but he was more someone we liked and respected. We really didn’t see his music as being part of our music. I can really like jazz or other kinds of music, but I play my music, and it just has been coming more and more. I just identify with Philip so much. I think he identifies with us, but he knows that we’re making pop music and we’re in a different medium.

FFanzeen: How did that collaboration come about? Was it on your mind or –
Billy: It did enter my mind, but I didn’t see it as becoming a fact. I never thought it would become a fact because I didn’t picture Philip to be what he is, as open-minded and just as versatile because he listens to all kinds of things. He makes music that’s his music.

FFanzeen: Do you see Polyrock trying to bridge the gap between that kind of music and pop rock’n’roll?
Billy: Yeah, I think subconsciously. We’re trying to make a serious sort of musical type of music; not just an occasion. A dance band. That’s definitely on our minds and that is an aspect of our music. We really like John Cage and people like that, their aspect of music, but we also enjoy playing for people and dancing. So, we’re trying not to be that, as many writers said, “serious.”

FFanzeen: You’ve had a lot of problems with the critics about that aspect of being serious. Some have asked, “How can a pop band have that in their musical or personality makeup”?
Billy: Well, it’s in the personality. I think it’s a real special thing. That’s what keeps me going. I see it developing more and more for us. Sort of like bridging that gap. I wouldn’t say so much as the repetitious thing or the minimalistic thing because I don’t think Philip Glass is minimalist.

FFanzeen: I don’t think so either. Minimal is an Andy Warhol film.
Billy: “Grey Canvas” is minimal.

FFanzeen: When you’re putting music together, do you take concrete ideas and put one after the other, or do you use the kind of random approach that Eno takes with his systems pieces?
Billy: I think that when I write, I hear where it’s going. I can sit down with an acoustic guitar and play it. Well, it’s sort of a systems approach because I’m doing other people. I know what Lenny, as a keyboard player, will reflect into the song, and I know what Curt will. And I have an idea what my brother will do – he would definitely write his piece to it. But the others, even though I’m writing the melodies and injecting it to them, I can already see what they’re going to do. When I play with just an acoustic, I usually do the melodies with my voice, and it’s weird because you keep the melody in that part of your head and you write another melody, or you get someone to team up with you. There’s so many things we have to stay away from when we write, Tommy and I. We try not to keep Blues progressions out of it and funk feelings. We’re trying to start with these very sterile sort of holes and these melodies. Mechanically, that’s what we start with. But, we’re trying. I think we’re very emotional. I think we’re trying to inject that, so the emphasis is not on funk, because what’s soul? That isn’t soul. We can have soul in our music.

FFanzeen: Well, not having a bass is almost an anti-funk idea.
Billy: I’m not anti-funk. I mean, I love it. I find it more challenging not to work with, because it’s very easy to me. It’s because we have to stay away from these things. I think it’s inevitable that we’re going to grow into something where we wouldn’t have to sit around here and try to explain it. It’ll just be this type of music that came through a process; but it’s just a process of trying to strip down and get away from all these things that have been done; all these different modes. I mean, it’s been 25 years since rock came about and pop music still sounds the same way. You can make it different and change it into a different shape, but it’s still the same medium. And funk’s been around and African music has been around. Sometimes I think it’s a crazy thing to do [smiles] but if it can work and we can do it, good. It’s a romantic thing to do, laying yourself on the line; but it’s an experiment. We can fall flat on our faces, and we’ll just turn around and try it a different way. I don’t think that I’ll ever put together a band that’ll be accepted right away. I don’t think any of us would. We would try to do something that had space for growing.

FFanzeen: Groups like Visage and Spandau Ballet are working with computers that go beyond a synthesized bass; they’re computerizing a beat. People are saying you are electronic. Isn’t that a bit off-base?
Billy: I think that when using all synthesizer and rhythm generators, I see that sound as getting too homogenized, too packaged too quickly. I think that just working with guitars is more of an inside thing. I see that kind of electronic music as getting too sterile. Like Gary Numan. I liked his first record, but he got too sterile. The overall sound is too formulated.

FFanzeen: That’s what I meant, because those people are just programming in the entire thing and they’re called inhuman.
Billy: Well, that’s supposed to sound inhuman. I look back on this record and there are reservations, because the fact that we have a serious edge doesn’t give us room to be playful.

FFanzeen: What’s your definition of “serious”? The B-52s take themselves seriously.
Billy: Yeah, I can think that, too. I could ask myself, “What is the definition of ‘serious’?” And I think it’s totally absurd to think that way, but obviously there is a whole overall thing that is looked at as serious and something that’s looked at as playful. It’s not my definition though. If I really stop to think about it, it’s just a type of seriousness where you have an attitude of just like when you make a piece, it could be a serious piece, something that you’re really thinking about and really trying to make different, but also trying to be very pretty and aesthetic in a sense; something that’s not as playful, because if something’s not playful, what else can it be?

FFanzeen: You mentioned new material. What stage is that at now?
Billy: It’s at the stage where we have five or six songs down – not all at the performing stage, though. We’ve been working. We’ve been to London, and we’re going to Baltimore. When we get back, I just want to go back up to our house [in historic Woodstock], and get these things down. We want to get back into the studio to make another album the end of March.

FFanzeen: Will Philip Glass produce the next album?
Billy: I think he will. It all depends on what the circumstances are, who we’ll be working with. I see him as another member of the band with just a smaller part. He doesn’t produce it; he’s not about that. And that’s what I was talking about – one of the reservations about going into the studio again. Because we want somebody who’s going to be more sensitive to the rock’n’roll aspects of it.

FFanzeen: Let’s get some more background. Before Polyrock, you played with the Model Citizens for a while. What was Tommy doing?
Billy: This was the first time he became visual, and marketed what he does. Before that he made tapes and has a collection of his own tapes which may be marketed someday. He’s been working mostly on his own music. This is more of something which we’re trying to create. It’s not what we’re about. Right now, we have this thing and it’s a band. We’re using our personae. We’re using the look. It’s a lot more than just making music. I think if Tommy was to write music for himself, he would explore a lot more different things; more subtle things, and not be so accessible to himself. That’s what I’m into doing.

FFanzeen: Aren’t you afraid to explore so soon?
Billy: Yeah. It definitely takes some time, and it’s good for me. I don’t think it’s a compromise. I think that we’re going to get to the point where we’ll be ready to do it, and we’ll know better how to do it, and we’ll learn what directions we really like and want to go into. But I think there’s a different attitude. A more spread-out kind of experimenting. Next album, I’m going back to bass on a couple of tunes. On the first record, for some reason, I just wanted to get away from electric bass. Maybe now I can incorporate it into our sound, because we’re starting to get a good idea of what we’re doing.

FFanzeen: How long were you in the studio recording the album?
Billy: About a month and a half.

FFanzeen: Did you have anything to do with the ad campaign RCA launched, with “Polyvinyl, Polyrock of the Future”?
Billy: No, not at all. Did it seem like any of us did? I hope it’s clear to most people that we had nothing to do with it. We really hated it, but I’m not going to turn around and say “RCA stinks.” They just got a little away from us.

FFanzeen: Polyrock is the best name you could have come up with; it’s so descriptive.
Billy: We thought it had a nice sound, also.

FFanzeen: What about this “dance-trance” business? It’s applied to other groups too, such as the Bush Tetras, and you two bands couldn’t be further apart.
Billy: It’s obviously not an adequate description of the music. Even more general is the term “New Wave,” which really freaks me out because Blondie is supposed to be New Wave and even Talking Heads, because they made it through the same packaging, the same channels. So I just have to say when people ask me what kind of music we play, it’s “Polyrock.” We’re making it that and that’s what we called it.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Jezebel Plays After the Take Back the Night March, Saskatoon, September 21, 2017

Text and photos (c) Robert Barry Francos

The Take Back the Night march is an event I try to attend every year in Saskatoon, help this year on Thursday, September 21, 2017. I don't feel I need to go into the reason why it is important, because if you don't know, you should. This year it was held at the YWCA Saskatoon parking lot, and walked over to the University and back (about two miles, total).

After the march, which had quite a few hundred people of all ages and genders, we met back at one of the rooms at the Y, and were treated to the music of local Saskatoon band, Jezebel. Yeah, I know, there are a few other bands with that name, but as I have not seen them, it's a moot point right now.

They had a nice contingent of fans at the event who danced in the back. Yeah, they were fun, that's for sure. They did a few covers as is expected for the crowd, including Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit" and Joan Jett's "I Hate Myself for Loving You." And as they describe themselves as "Unapologetic Bridge City prairie pop punk; pulling no punches with knockout hooks, hard hitting melodies and heart-on-their-sleeve lyrics, it's no surprising they do a cover of Britney Spears' "Toxic." While they were well done, I actually liked their original material better. They have an EP coming out, and perhaps I'll get the chance to review it.

Terri Bear-Linklater: vox; rhythm guitar
Mik Mak Bowman: vox; bass
Jovan Larre: lead guitar
Breton Cook: drums

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Applying for Jobs by Computer or by Mobile.

Text (c) Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2017
Image from the Internet

It is bound to come, where applying for jobs by cell phone will be the common procedure. The level of technology at present day, however, makes that possible, but is it the most efficient?

Of course, the biggest attraction to using the mobile over the desktop or laptop is ease, and yes, being able to blast out your information to a large number of companies covers more ground. Having your resume and/or cover letter in your email and forwarding it is a snap. Even with that, there are more functional and possibly successful ways to proceed in your job applications.

When you send your resume and cover letter to a prospective employer, the email will indicate that it was sent from a mobile device. This tells the Hiring Manager some assumptive information. For example, it says that you are sending out resumes that are not directed to the company’s individual needs, but as a “pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey,” cover-all template.  They want to know you are willing to put in the work and research before you apply, and that you are self-motivated and proactive. If you want to stand out, it is better to individualize your resume and cover letter rather than sending a come one-come all version.

This is especially true for cover letters. Some people will type in a version of a cover letter into the actual email, but this is not as efficient in attracting positive attention as attaching a document that is easy to print out.

A proper cover letter should be dated, addressed to the company connected to the advertisement even if you have to look up the actual physical address in a search engine, and mention the position exactly as it is mentioned in the ad, including competition number if one is attached. Sending out a cover letter that is undated and unaddressed does not garner as much attention as one that is directed to the person and company requesting your information.

Many companies also have online applications, where the person looking for a job needs to attach a resume after you create a sign-in with that website. These cannot be sent from an email as of yet, so there is still a need for the physical presence rather than just a click on a phone.

Microsoft Word or other word processing software are not easily navigated on a mobile device, so it is better at this stage of the technology development to actually work on the application on a desktop or laptop.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

CHEAP PERFUME Fills the Air [1980]

Text by Marc Silver / FFanzeen fanzine, 1980
Introduction by Robert Barry Francos © FFanzeen blog, 2017
Images from the Internet

Cheap Perfume were a rockin’, all-woman band that was underrated in the New York Scene, and deserved better. I had the opportunity to see them a couple of times in 1977-78, and was happy to give them their due by publishing this piece. They have reformed a number of times, sometimes with the lead singer who had moved to the other coast, other times with the rest of the band filling in vocally.

Please note that this has nothing to do with the Colorado-based band with the same name, which was formed in 2015.

This interview was originally printed in FFanzeen, issue #5, dated August/September 1980. It was written/conducted by Marc Silver. I have lost track of Marc, so if anyone knows his whereabouts, please let him know about this!

Cheap Perfume occupies the niche of the top-drawing all-female band in New York. Their music is self-described as “power-pop with a rock’n’roll edge.” Performances are vibrant and chock-full of ass-kicking rock’n’roll. The majority of their material is original, but their unique covers range from the Beatles’ “Boys” to a version of the Tokens’ “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” complete with choreographed dancing in the aisles.

Brenda, the drummer, had recently crushed her ankle and was partying the time away in the dismal dungeons of the Metropolitan Hospital. Also present for the interview at the hospital were L. and Nancy Street, lead singer and rhythm guitarist, respectively. Sue Sheen [Palermo], bassist, and Bunny LeDesma, lead guitarist, were AWOL.

Brenda [Martinez-White]: In the beginning I created the Earth and the heavenly bodies. No, at the start it was Zoey, Susan and me. But I didn’t consider that the band.
Nancy Street: I noticed an ad in The [Village] Voice for a female vocalist and I said to myself, “I know just the girl,” meaning L. She auditioned and I tagged along.
L [Lynn Odell]: It was a package deal.

FFanzeen: When did Bunny join?
Brenda: Eight months ago.

FFanzeen: After Zoey left?
Brenda: Yes

FFanzeen: Did your material change much?
L: The material changed drastically. Most of the songs up to that point had been written by Zoey and her boyfriend, so we had to give those songs up.

FFanzeen: Who’s doing the writing now?
Nancy: Susan and I, and we’ve got friends who give us songs.

FFanzeen: How would you describe your music?
Brenda: It’s hard.
L: It’s pop. It’s definitely pop. It’s not punk. It’s not heavy metal. Pop pretty well rounds it off. It’s under the genre of New Wave, but certainly not punk.
Nancy: Power pop, with a standard rock’n’roll edge.

FFanzeen: Who are the major influences in your songwriting?
Brenda: Mostly guys.

FFanzeen: I’ll ask you about that later.
Nancy: I’m influenced by the Beatles and the Who. Susan is influenced by…God knows…Frank Zappa, Ian Hunter, Mick Ronson, Southside Johnny, Greg Kihn…
L: Uncle Floyd.

FFanzeen: On stage, Bunny for example, is styled after Keith Richards.
Nancy: Very Stones.
Brenda: Very stoned!

FFanzeen: Do any of the rest of you ever mimic your rock heroes?
Nancy: I do try to do the Pete Townshend windmills.
L: And it looks ridiculous.
Nancy: But I try. I don’t do it very often and I’m not very good at it. But after a few vodkas…

FFanzeen: What would it take to get you to slide across the stage on your knees?
Nancy: I’d pass out before then. But really, I don’t try to emulate anyone.
Brenda: I have my own style.
L: Nobody plays like her.
Brenda: [to L.] And who do you try to sing like?
L: Well, my major influences are from acting. I’m very theatrical on stage. I move around a lot. I don’t just stand there and turn around in circles, like Debbie Harry.
Nancy: It particularly bothers me when you see a band who are obviously on a Who trip or a Beatles trip. There’s a band in the New York area where the lead singer is doing all the Roger Daltry moves, the lead guitarist is doing all the Pete Townsend moves, and the drummer thinks he’s Keith Moon. It’s disgusting. It’s stupid; I resent it. It’s one thing to have influences, but it’s another to have it completely take over your performance.

FFanzeen: This is the definition of a cover band. Have you played outside of New York?
L: We played DC twice; Upstate at Hamilton College [Clinton, NY].

FFanzeen: What were the audiences like?
L: In Washington, they’re pretty civil. They’re a little too civil. They’re boring.
Brenda: They don’t get into it heavily.
L: Upstate, forget it. We had to beat them back with hammers. It was like they had never heard music before.
Nancy: We played the Hot Club in Philly. They loved us. We beat them off with sticks.
L: They were all lesbians. We had to barricade the dressing room.
Brenda: We played a prison once, in Danbury, Connecticut.
L: They weren't wild about us. We were girls, and that they were into, not the music.
Nancy: It was a white collar prison; tax evaders.
L: Where Nixon should be.

FFanzeen: What makes you different from other all-girl bands?
L: Most of them don’t get any further than forming a band. There are a few that you hear about once or twice and then they’re gone.
Brenda: Do you know how hard it is to keep girls together?

FFanzeen: I know how hard it is to keep them apart.
Nancy: Cheap Perfume is very significant to each of us. It is the first and only band any of us have ever been in.

FFanzeen: On stage, it looks as though there’s no jealousy over the spotlight.
Brenda: We’re pretty good about that.

FFanzeen: But I have seen you run into each other on the way into the spotlight.
L: Well, Bunny needs a pair of glasses.
Brenda: We should hold a benefit for Bunny’s glasses.
L: She’s walked into my mic stand three times.
Brenda: But she never misses a cute guy.

FFanzeen: Being an all-girl band might be thought of as a gimmick, but it’s obvious that you’re serious about yourself as musicians. How do people seem to react to you?
Nancy: In the beginning it was a good gimmick and we never had any trouble getting gigs.
Brenda: People still come up to me and say, “You know, you’re pretty good for girls.”
L: At first they were right, because nobody had come anywhere near mastering their instruments. And now, although we don’t have it by the tail…
Brenda: – We have it by the asshole –
L: …We do pretty well.
Nancy: I’d like to think that the timing is right for an all-girl band. It’s more than accepted. Chrissie Hynde is the rhythm guitar player for the Pretenders. Girls are becoming more than just the lead singer.
Brenda: Nancy Wilson of Heart is a fuckin’ hot lead guitar player.
Nancy: I think that the lack of female musicians is a problem from our teen-age. It wasn’t accepted for little 13 year olds to be picking up an electric guitar.

FFanzeen: There were no role models.
Nancy: I think that now there will be a greater mix in the near future. There will be more groups like the Nervus Rex and Talking Heads.

FFanzeen: Unisex bands.
L: I’d like to think that we’re responsible for a lot of girls getting musically involved in the New York scene.

FFanzeen: Almost all of your songs are about guys and are sexually suggestive. Despite your musical social ability, it wouldn’t be outlandish to call this an exploitation or even a gimmick since you’re an all-girl band.
L: Most rock’n’roll songs are about guys, girls…

FFanzeen: Cars, money…
L: Sex, drugs. That’s all. They’re standard themes.

FFanzeen: I don’t buy that. All your songs are about guys, not any of those other subjects.
Nancy: They’re really not. Only one: “Tommy.”

FFanzeen: What about “Overnight Angel,” “Boys,” “Back Alley Lovin’,” “Todd’s Song,” and especially “Too Bad”?
L: “Too Bad”? No, you misinterpreted the song. It’s not about a guy, it's about missing a chance, about being in a situation where you know if you did it right, you could have it. Anything – a guy, a girl, money – anything. But you blow it for one reason or another.
* * *
Anyway, Cheap Perfume is a hot act with many surprises. They’re tight and fast and they’ll leave ya beggin’ for more. They’re avoiding recording until they get the right producer. Definitely a professional move.

As soon as Brenda is out of the hospital, Cheap Perfume will be gigging up and down the East Coast under the guidance of Spotlight Enterprise. I’m looking forward to it.