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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Comics... sigh. Drew 'em for years, I did. At some point in my 20s, Art Spiegelman saw some of my stuff and brutally critiqued it. I agreed, and gave it up. Moved on to music, determined to carry on no matter what. Now, so many years later, few brutal critiques... not from anyone I respect anyhow... but pretty much the same conclusion. Music... sigh.

So, a glance back at the first doomed avocation. Panels, doodles, etc, spanning childhood to my late teens. None of the later stuff that Spiegelman hated, though. I gave away every page I didn't destroy. It is kind of nice that the blog justifies use of this shit at long last, as a friend noted the other day. I feel like it honors, ever so feebly, the dreamy kid that drew it all. And shit, he deserves it, even if it's only his aged self doing it. There are heaps and heaps of these things, really. All that stuff I did for the love of doing. No shame in that.

The oldest one from the current array is from one of these EC/Twilight Zone fixated books I cranked out between 10 and 12 years old. Lots of bitter twists at the end of each tale. Worked REAL hard on these ones. They're not as funny as a lot of the other shit I did then, but the art is better, and it was rare that I used color except in these ambitious strips.

The other one's from a bit later, with a fellow named "Deeds" about to be spirited off by amorphous baddies. Included here for the silly bit of gratuitous self-praise in the corner. Say what you will, at least I was pleased with myself at the time. I could use some of that now!

There's a portion of a page from a small book I did in high school called "Ripstaver." Completed a couple of issues of that one, a 5 by 8 number following the adventures of a bewildered band of mutant-types. Every page included instructions on which music to play while reading it. Forget what this page called for... maybe Grieg or Josef Marais or something.

Here's a sketch of a cock-n-balls gal with cigar-smoking tits. Your guess is as good as mine.
And finally a set of "Patron Saints" from around the age of 19. We had a book, for as long as I can recall, entitled "Lives of Saints" featured short synopses of each individual saintly life accompanied by repros of paintings. Beautiful shit, and I guess I must have looked it over again before scribbling these pencil -n- sharpie portraits.

St Vitus
St Tropez

St Bernard

And of course, St Elmo.

Slightly jaundiced eye on the holy by then. So that's about enough of that crap. Now you know why I went into music. And now? Figure it's a good time to take up another artform for the next 20-something years. Ballet! Can't miss.

Monday, September 15, 2008

So close and yet, SOFA.
Yeesh. Forgive me for that one! As we continue the archaeology, a cavalcade of couch commemorations. Well, not really a cavalcade... more properly a quartet, which is sonically alliterative anyway.
Life is good on the sofa. Sofa time is time well-spent. Come see some of the sofas of my life.
Here's a family group from our living room at 606 17th Street. I reckon that I'm about 4 or 5 here, proudly displaying my Marx Universal Monsters figures on the coffee table, amid the ever-present doilies and magazines. Monsters were very important in those days. These figures were likely purchased at Woolworth's, where they sat irresistably in bins alongside other Marx six-inchers like cowboys and indians, army soldiers (my favorites in these categories were always the "dying guys" ...poor fellows frozen eternally at the moment a bullet or arrow struck them. Bizarre, looking back at it), et al. Dunno if I had already begun collecting the Nutty Mads and Weird-Ohs, but I'll get to those eventually.

Now: left to right. Brother Brian, early in his "hood" phase. Painstaking hair comb (ever after, he'd jokingly comment "bad hair comb" as a way of complimenting one's coif). Tiki pendants were favored on the neck chain, and cologne was liberally applied. Au Sauvage, Old Spice, so forth. Eventually and enduringly, Brut. Next to Brian sit Uncle Freddie and Aunt Sis. "Sis" was the nickname Mom and siblings gave their eldest sister, so naturally we all called her "Aunt Sis." This is indicative of the strange range of relationships in a large, close family where many siblings were born many years apart; cousins as old as Mom who were more like aunts, and of course nephew Pete, who was more like a brother. The tradition continues, with Miles and Lily's brother Alex almost 20 years their elder!

Fred and Sis were sweet, wonderful people. A late memory of Aunt Sis was arriving at her apartment (site of countless holiday bashes in those years) as a teen, toting my freshly purchased copy of Tom Waits' "Foreign Affairs" lp. Just as the sisters momentarily left their tea and crumbcake to come see what I was listening to on the console tv/stereo, Waits barked "...Florence Nightingale stuck her fat ass out the window..." which, thankfully, inspired much laughter instead of the expected chagrin.

Then there's Grandma. Dad's Mom, who then lived at the Ronkonkoma house I'm now emptying. I still hear her Irish brogue... she died when I was nine, slipping and falling in the kitchen. My folks rushed out to the hospital on Long Island, and I was with my siblings Maureen, Brian, Bobby and Petie in this room at 606 when the call came. I recall the people on the tv (Tonight Show, I think) continuing to laugh as we all sat variously weeping and stunned silent. That was a mindfuck. The world just goes on... who suspected? I prayed to her and promised I'd talk to her every night with the day's news, and did so for many years afterward.

Then it's Aunt Ronnie. She kept a big toybox in her living room for all visiting nieces, nephews and grandkids. A complete pearl. Shelley often drove Mom in to see her in the later years, and on her deathbed she roused from near-dementia to embrace me, whisper some of the most beautiful sentiments I have ever heard and promise to watch over me. With a soul like hers, I can almost believe it's true. Wrote a chamber piece for her that was meant for the abandoned followup to "Magic Beans" ...her death sent my Mom into a spiral of depression that set in soon afterward, on Sept 11.

But there she is, Mom Immortal, beaming with Bobby and me between her and Dad. A very happy time... everyone depicted here represents absolute love to me. What a lucky little boy.

Same spot, different sofa and coffee table. Now I'm maybe 11 or 10, playing the Marvin Glass-designed "Which Witch" game with Brian. Right after Christmas, with wrapping paper and boxes still littering the place. Brian is now in his "groovy guy" phase, and Four Seasons / Shirelles records have given way to Chambers Brothers and Sly and the Family Stone. Dangling in the air above Dad, note the day-glo peace sign mobile. Dad, no doubt caught up in a football game or Efrem Zimbalist on "The F.B.I.", is only tolerating the mobile for the holiday season; I reckon it was a gift from Brian to Bobby or vice versa. Dad is doing his aimless hair-twirling bit; 'til the end he'd repeatedly wind a lock of hair through his fingers as he focused on some tv show. And if the scent of Brut brings back memories of this version of Brian, Vitalis permeates my memories of this version of Dad.

In keeping with the era, Brian and I are sporting mod vests, with fringe on mine! I am obviously proud to be garbed so, sitting beside my purple-trousered bro and wishing I could also grow my hair long so I could be a groovy guy as well. (I did, at about 13, and suffered "are you a boy or a girl" abuses for many years as a result. When I was first marooned in Long Island, a jock hit me with that hated question in the loathed homeroom of my detested high school. Nervous as hell but realizing I needed to show some chutzpah, I replied "Why dontcha suck my dick and find out?") Despite the misery their substance abuse brought into our home, I thought Brian and Bobby were the coolest motherfuckers in christendom.

Behind the sofa is the rickety stereo, before which I'd sit for hours listening to the soundtrack from "2001, A Space Odyssey," the Bee Gees' "Odessa" and other favorites of the moment. Just to the left of the stereo, a GI Joe paratrooper hangs from the wooden bars lining the staircase. These bars were perfectly spaced for getting one's head stuck in between.

Fast-forward to a gathering 'round the sofa at my room in Ronkonkoma, aeons later. Now I'm about 17. Foreground is Maryrose, a gifted gal who was later in the original cast of Sondheim's "Merrily We Roll Along," and was immortalized by an Al Hirschfeld caricature on the album cover! She's now a successful writer, notably of fiction for young women. I think that's Steve next to her, a guy I spent many many many hours with through the years, some of them sober. Last saw him, along with his rowdy brood, a couple of years back at a party here at the current house.

Frank is chortling next to him. Like Maryrose, he and I recently re-acquainted on MySpace. He does a sort of retro-Vegas comedy and music act around the area. Lovely Karina - current whereabouts unknown to me - is agreeably strangling me as I extinguish a butt in my beer cup. I had just begun that odious habit, which I still relish, unfortunately. And that's Carrie sitting bobsled style between my legs. I can't fathom now why I decided to break up with her; she was a great, sweet, beautiful gal. Probably still is, somewhere.

Doubtless, there was music playing. My guess is Neil Young, Beach Boys or Stackridge, whose album "Pinafore Days" was a group favorite: Tony DeCosa bought every copy he came across and gave them out like new-daddy cigars. We also had a collective fixation with actor Ted Bessell of "That Girl." Fan club buttons, the works. Long story. This sofa was a Castro Convertible... not yet as rank with beer and other drippins as it quickly became before getting deep-sixed for good.

This room became Brian's when circumstance led him to his decline. Last week a truck hauled away tons of shit that had accumulated there... it will soon be the domain of Alex and Cat, who will likely install a new sofa ...and fun will once again reign o'er all, set to Drum 'n' Bass.

That same house, downstairs, another few years along. Now I'm about 22 or so, with Charlie and Bari on the Furry Sofa. It was like cozying up on Robin Williams' back.

We seem to be inebriated on some combination of toxins. Charlie was a dear friend, dead at 33. He and his wife moved to New York City around this time, an unfortunate choice, as it turned out. Wrote a song for him called "The Mighty Sun" recalled, in part, our long nights of deep deep music listening; I turned him on to Tom Waits and he got me into Alan Price. Lotsa Stevie Wonder, Leon Russell, Elvis Costello. Bari, a real salt-o-the-earth type, married a fireman a few years after this photo, and where she is I do not know, but bless her wherever she be.

I was never the Cory Hart sort, so the sunglasses can only indicate something bad afoot. Around this time I shattered my front teeth attempting to play the trombone out the window of Charlie's overloaded VW Bug. Brrrapp! CRACK! Sparks flew as the slide hit pavement at a stupidly high speed... and the brass mouthpiece smashed the ol' incisors like one of them medieval battering rams. 3,000 bucks later I could smile brightly again. No more mescaline, thanks.

Maybe I'll get around to telling you about a week spent in a woodland cabin with Charlie, Brian, and Steve from the previous snapshot. A "fishing trip." Oy fuckin Vey!! But one afternoon that sordid week - sprawled on the cabin's sofa, you betcha - Charlie somehow got the ancient tv to work, pulling in only one channel thru its rusty rabbit ears. We watched Frank Sinatra in "The Joker is Wild" and permanently adopted his toast "Post time!"

And here's a toast to all of them (water, alas), here and gone. With thanks for all the heapin' helpins of their hospitality.
Hillbilly, that is.
Set a spell.
Take your shoes off.
Y'all come back now, y'hear?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Yeah, it's THAT date again. I wasn't thinking too much about it, but here it is, and so tonight's entry will feature a few pieces from the ongoing archaeology concerning Pete. Or "Petie" as we called him back in those days. These are really the first things I grabbed today; I could fill a million entries with pics and stories, but it wouldn't convey enough. So: glimpses of a shared childhood.

Below is part of a diary entry from when I was 13 or so. The point of interest is the tiny doodle in the upper left corner, depicting Pete, Frank Fulco and me unsuccessfully warding off sleep as we all bunked together in front of the tube. One of our rituals was a Saturday night pyjama hang, where we'd try to stay up all night in order to watch the first shows on Sunday Morning, when the tv stations signed back on the air. The shows we craved were both on channel 5, WNEW: "Reverend Cleophus Robinson" and "Wonder Window." "Rev. Cleo" - as we called him - was a classic southern preacher of enormous vocal power; we'd goof on the sermons and enjoy the singing. Wonder Window was a piss-poor religious kid's show... kind of a "Wonderama for Jesus" thing. Mind you, part of the idea with our stay-up was to achieve a giddiness that enhanced appreciation of these shows.

Soon we applied the same theory to the Jerry Lewis MDA telethon, to which, as you know, I remain devoted. There is always a time during my Jerry-thon endurance ritual when I catch a sweet whiff of those ancient Saturday/Sunday no-sleep-overs. Any man who fell asleep was subject to vile torments and humiliations, as is only right, but evidently on this occasion we all dropped out as one... a blot on our collective escutcheon worthy of commemoration in this diary. The real danger zone for dozing was the brief period when there was NOTHING on the tv (not to be confused with today, when there is a very loud nothing on, every channel, all the time). CBS 2 Signed off around 4:30 or so, give or take, and WNEW came on maybe 5. So figure at least 30 minutes of very bleary attempts to remain up and stoked.

It's a goddamn shame that tv stations don't sign off anymore - don't even get me started on infomercials - and I collect old examples of sign-offs and sign-ons from equally rabid weirdos on YouTube. So far nobody's posted a WNEW 5 Sat-to-Sun sequence for my nostalgic wallowing, but fortunately I found a recording we'd made one of those halcyon overnights, which includes the sound of Rev Cleo preaching and the opening theme from Wonder Window, all with our giddy kiddy chatter in the background. Man, do I treasure those recordings.

Making tape recordings was our passion. We worked that Panasonic cassette machine to death in those years, doing the usual puerile parodys, silly tunes and audio-verite. I still have things ranging from entire pillow fights, vacation travel reports and tv-commentary shenanigans (the reason I never dug MST3K is that I always thought this was a fab party game and still can't understand why anyone would want someone else to supply the wiseassery for them) to audio experiments and original music. Below left is an illustration for a now-lost game show parody I did with Pete, "Manslaughter!" We filled notebooks with visual complements to our audio oeuvre. Who needed blogs and laptops? Pete's specialty was impersonating Nipsey Russell and Muhammed Ali, mainly because of their penchant for rhymes. As Frank did his Evel Kneivel or Bob Eubanks and I'd do my Joey Heatherton or Richard Nixon, Pete would intrude with an inane, improvised couplet that would stop the proceedings cold with a good few minutes of uncontrolled giggling. One of those very crack-ups concludes the "Uncle" album.

Regarding the "original music" - most of the tunes we did were credited to our "band," Hot Turd. Here are some bits of H.T. ephemera:

I assume the illo with the spear was a beginning attempt at an "album cover" The other one, with portraits of Me, Frank and Pete (with our nicknames Sport, Ace and Projie, respectively) includes an inset (see, I'm sparing you full-page scans, so think of how excruciating this entry could have been) of "us" "performing." Properly, Ace's guitar should be a neck-sprung acoustic or a toy banjo, Projie's drums should be a series of toy drums and pots and pans. Me, I'm at the OPTIGAN. Which is also still there, mouldering, at the old homestead. Our sound was sonically adventurous, like, say, chimpanzees covering the Shaggs.

Our work boldly dealt with issues like farts, the other retards at school, boogersnots, the assholes who taught us at school, and of course, turds.

Hot Turd began its fabled career as the "glee club" component of the Viking Club, formed by me and best chum Mike "Woody" Woodworth back in the single-digit days of kidhood. Woody. I smile at the thought of that guy. Not long before Pete's death, he told me he'd run into Woody on the street. Woody gave him his phone number and asked him if he could pass it on to me. I called once, got a machine and hung up. I keep meaning to call. Dunno if I should or not, but I love Woody like a brother, and that's exactly why I hesitate.

You know, I still periodically check to see if the number is active under "Woodworth."

That's the three of us there, in the hallway of my family's Brooklyn apartment on 55th street. Pete's mugging in the front, Woody's posing like a tart and I'm trying to be Marc Bolan.

This was about the time we were all glomming on rock music for the first time... buying albums and Circus and Creem mags, practicing how to be elitist tastemakers, arguing the relative merits of Slade, Bowie, and inherited favorites like the Beatles and Stones. Pete really liked "Starman" from Ziggy Stardust. Soon teenhood would arrive with its lusts, anxieties and divergent pursuits, and Toyland's doors would close.

But for now it was still childhood and how.

Here's one of the endless lists and charts that defined our boyhood alliances. This was a Viking club roster ...again with an inset obscuring other names, some of which had insulting comments appended to indicate that week's heirarchy of Klub Koolness (not that any of the others gave a shit, being occasional playmates who probably saw us as egocentric losers, a status I still proudly occupy in the view of many/most/all acquaintances and relatives).

I was surprised to discover this and learn that Pete was such a powerful member of the club; I'm certain that, earlier on, Woody and I would have granted him "junior"status, along with (latterday fellow fireman) Paul, who obviously decided he preferred "Stretch" to his previous nickname "EarthQuirke". By this point, Pete was my veep, so I guess I kind of loved the little fucker. Note the GI Joe "Action Team" Logo up top, a design adapted at the left margin for "Hot Turd." We loved them GI Joes, mon ami.

Our world was small, of course, and in the dubious work of cartography below, I attempted to lay it all out.

For anyone patient/bored enough to learn, I will list some of the significant points illustrated herein.

55th St House: was where the family moved after our landlord screwed us out of our home on 17th Street. The move there was the first catastrophic rupture. Pete and Maureen stayed in the old neighborhood, where "Dog Day Afternoon" was shot soon afterwards, with Pete, Paul Q and brother Bob as extras. Later, Paul Auster's "Smoke" and "Blue in the Face" were also shot right there on 9th. I spoke with Auster about all this just a few weeks ago... I'd rather reminisce about it with Pete, though.

St Michael's: was the catholic school I went to after they threw me out of Holy Name. Catastrophic rupture number two. But I met Frankie there, another cuss I love and miss.

Holy Name: Pete completed his primary education there, and right next to it you'll see...

Ray's and Otto's: a candystore down the block from school, where we'd buy essentials like Ugly Stickers, Mod Generation stickers, little rubber jiggler monsters and the great, great, fucking great Colorforms Aliens figures. Just "south" (by this map, anyhoo) of 17th Street you'll find...

Bohack, Vacant Lot, Bridge: a supermarket where Brian worked, a site for massive war games and mayhem, and a hideout/meeting place, respectively. The vacant lot eventually became a row of houses where Pete's pal Paul LaGrutta came to live. But once, during a terrible incident wherein a gang of older kids chased me, Pete, et al from the lot, we gathered under the bridge and decided to take refuge at Bohack, where Brian and his coworkers chased off our pursuers. Then Pete and I were treated to a ride down the Bohack conveyer belt to the Bohack basement, a stygian pit full of rotting Bohack produce.

Jesus, there's too much to tell: The Viginia cliff was where Pete nearly fell to his death during a holiday roadtrip with Mom and Dad. I HAVE IT ON FUCKING TAPE! We were wandering thru the woods, recording our progress, when WHOOPS! Down he went, clutching a root on the cliffside. I helped him up and immediately checked to make sure it was captured. "Cool... you almost died! Listen!"

Stony Brook: where Pete and Woody and me would sneak over the wall to slide down the grist mill's water chute into a creek right out of Tom Sawyer. This is the stuff of blissful memory.

Green-Wood Cemetery: where me and Pete would film 8mm vampire movies amid the Victorian crypts. Where Pete and Brian are now buried.

It all leads there nowadays, eh? Fuck. I'll maybe tell a few of these stories in detail another day. Not now.


Petie playing on his little vehicle at the house on 17th street, with a Captain Action figure along for the ride. The encyclopedias on the rear shelf... I just packed them up last week. Look at the joy on that kid's face. Christ.

What can I add? It's getting very late. I miss him. I loved him more than I can ever convey. And I don't give a shit about the date, really, because every day's just another unless you share it with people you love, doing things that make you laugh. Looking forward as Pete did. And for all the laughing days we were cheated out of, we had so many like these. A considerable blessing.
So on to the future and the laughs that'll follow tonight's tears.

Thanks, Projie.

O.K. Here I am again. I have spent a lot of time immersed in the grueling task of clearing out the old family home. It's tiring, depressing, sometimes sweet and mostly interminable. The images I've combined (and retexted) to the left are among the heaps of old artwork I unearthed during this effort.

What follows will be a series of entries involving various drawings, scrawls, photos, clippings etc. that I've come across. The art mostly spans my life from about 10 years old to 19, and I guess you can generally guess the vintage by the relative "quality" of my drawing - not that I think much of any of it, but the older shit, of course, holds more personal charm. I assume you know that clicking on any image will increase its size, as usual. Tonight I'm on a random sort of tangent, but I suppose some future entries will be more thematic.

Now let's see... howzabout some old girlfriends and such? Here's JODY. A wonderful gal,
a savior during my miserable teens. We met thru a mutual love of the Bonzo Dog Band and the good graces of WSHU (connecticut) DJ Marc Gunther. Haven't heard from Jody for a long time, maybe 15 years now.

Thanks to her, I will always feel a Pavlovian erotic shiver any time I listen to Brian Eno's Another Green World.
Last time we spoke, she had kids and was obsessed with pro wrestling, which I do not mention with any sense of disdain, as future entries will indicate.
Never could or will have anything but fond thoughts for Jody, and I hope we meet again someday.

And the same goes for LUCY.My mad romantic obsession right at the end of high school and for a ridiculously long time thereafter. Though I was generally the smitten jerk in this relationship, the roles occasionally shifted. There was a time, however, when it was good for both of us, but finally we just decided that we really liked each other as friends. From which point we never saw each other again. Not for any dark reasons; she moved to Florida, where friendships go to die. Wrote some songs for her. Note to other exes: if I ever told you I wrote such-and-such for you, I was lying; it was probably for Lucy. Far as I know, she's happily married. Hope so, anyway.

I don't think I'll get all detailed about any other old flames, though. But you'll meet a few more, I reckon. Here's some school notebook shit...

Death Cheez Snax / Portly Grad Girl

Yeah, nothing grand, I admit. But that's just it. This is not an art exhibit, it's a biography. Just ad hoc exhumations, and if there are any interesting stories, I'll include them. Skoal, friends.