Notes From a Basement

By Doug Hubley: Sounds and reflections of a musical life

Archive for the tag “Mike Piscopo”

From a Hole in the Ground, Part One

The Fashion Jungle rehearses in Ben & Harriette Hubley’s basement in a composite image from the early 1980s. From left, Steve Chapman, Ken Reynolds, Doug Hubley. Photos by Jeff Stanton.

See the basements, read about the basements — and hear the basements in the Bandcamp and Nimbit stores!

NOTE: All musical excerpts in this post were recorded in basements except the first one, included so that you can hear the Kent and Capt. Distortion, played by Steve McKinney; my bass playing heard through the RCA stereo; and Tom Hansen playing cardboard boxes, a tambourine and a metal bicycle basket as percussion. We all sing, and Judy McKinney sings and plays rhythm guitar. This was recorded in the Hubleys’ living room in 1969.


My parents’ basement in South Portland, Maine, in the late 1960s. Notice the particle board stereo speakers, the coffee-can light fixture at upper left and the cloth speaker grille on Capt. Distortion, lower left. This image is the source for the Notes From a Basement banner. Hubley Archives.

 

Most musicians from Bob Dylan on down,

especially those of a certain age, can tell you about making music in a basement.

I count at least nine residential basements in which I’ve played alone or with bands — to say nothing of such illustrious subterranean nightspots in Portland, Maine, as the original Geno’s, Squire Morgan’s, the short-lived Ratskellar and the Free Street Taverna (only slightly below street level, but with a true basement feel).

An equivalent view in April 2013, after we cleared out the house for sale and my parents moved into assisted living. Hubley Archives.

Allow me to explain the obvious. Musical equipment takes up a lot of space, is hard to dust and to vacuum around, and looks good only in its functional context — that is, when you’re using it to play music or make other musicians envious.

In addition, of course, electric music can get loud. And by the same token, domestic life can interfere with musical moods. You don’t want someone watching NASCAR nearby when you’re trying to record a tender folk ballad.

Perhaps most decisively, musicians at work create a powerful social energy that, for better or worse, intrudes into whatever hopes for their time your non-musical roommates might be aspiring to.

Doug Hubley and the Kent

Me and the Kent, my first guitar that I didn’t steal from my sister. Pre-Capt. Distortion, it was plugged into the RCA Victor stereo. Hubley Archives.

So for many of us, music gets made in the basement — spiders and pill bugs, dust and grit, mildew and mold, darkness and chilliness be damned.  (Garages, of course, also have a noble history as musical refuges, even lending their name to a musical genre).

And don’t forget the water during snowmelt and heavy rains. Standing water on the basement floor every spring was a special attraction in the 1910 house where I grew up, on a side street near Red Bolling’s legendary Tastee Freez (now known as Red’s).

When we moved in, in 1958, the largest of the three cellar rooms was set off by a pair of French doors. If a 60-year-recollection is worth anything, that space briefly harbored a little sitting area with curtains and some kind of dainty furniture. (I’m the only Hubley who remembers that amenity. Dream or reality?)

One French door, with all of its glass but painted into opacity, still remained 55 years later when we cleared the house out and moved my parents into assisted living.

The massive gray gizmo on the green hassock was a “portable” turntable, weighing about 40 pounds, that once used by WCSH-AM for remote broadcasts (if that’s still a recognizable concept). Hubley Archives.

Anyhoo, back there in 1966 or ’67, one or both of my sisters, who are older than me, turned that room into a hangout. They walled half of it off with blankets, and added amenities such as an old, deep stuffed chair with a rock-hard seat and touches of paint that included “I love you” (and, less idealistically, “69”) daubed on the bricks.

As my sisters’ hangout-related interests matured and my involvement in music deepened, I claimed the room. But it didn’t happen overnight. What shaped the situation was a chronic inadequacy of musical gear that prevailed until I was out of high school and drawing a paycheck. (I’m often gobsmacked by how well-equipped today’s young players are.)

Doug plays bass through the new Guild Superstar and sister Sue Hubley sings in early 1970. The “mic stand” was a tent pole. Hubley Archives.

The first guitar that was really mine, not “borrowed,” was a six-string Kent, Model 823. It was a birthday present in 1967, when I turned 13. But I didn’t have a proper amplifier until Christmas 1969.

During those 30 months before I got the Guild Superstar, my father improvised a couple of solutions to my unamplified plight. (Dad knew electronics — he’d even been a radioman with Eisenhower’s headquarters during WW II.)

First he rigged an input to the household record player, a much-modified RCA console model in the living room. The Kent sounded clean through the RCA — a bass sounded better, as it turned out — but the disruption to the household was significant.

Dad’s next offering was a bare-chassis amplifier of unknown origin (record player? intercom? public-address?) hooked up to an 8-inch speaker that must have come from some other console record player. The speaker was mounted onto a cloth-and-wood panel, and the amp was screwed onto a plain pine board. Dangling wires connected them, and the whole works teetered on a rolling metal TV stand. 

It wasn’t too loud but it sure sounded rough. In fact, it set a standard of overdriven amp tone that remains a criterion for me, in a good way. I called that contraption Capt. Distortion.

I continued to clear the living room with the RCA from time to time, but the Captain really changed my musical life. Most importantly, the Captain — along with other stopgaps, such as a second-hand particle-board stereo that Dad also dredged up from who knows where — untethered me from the living room.

And, actually, tethered me instead to basements.

Cellar, beware

A kid named Tom Hansen was one of my best friends for about five years, starting in 1966. We shared interests in music, in putting on a show, and in wacky humor. (The product of an academic household, Tom had a much more sophisticated wit than mine.)

Drummer Tom plays cardboard boxes and a real, though cracked, cymbal, in the Hubley basement in early 1970. Hubley Archives.

Our adolescent energies converged like phaser beams on my father’s poor Panasonic reel-to-reel tape recorder. We used it, with a succession of cheap plastic microphones, to record music ranging from earnest and bad to cacophonous and unlistenable. We also attempted comedy. Tom and I spent most of 1969 and ’70 recording crap on that poor tape recorder.

We surrounded ourselves with such musical instruments as we had. Along with the Kent and the Captain, that arsenal included a 12-string guitar from the Sears catalog, a kiddie piano, metal spoons and a tambourine, cheap bells, nose flutes and kazoos. And harmonicas: While I knew him, Tom developed into a very good harp player.

To the basement decor I added some colored light bulbs (I still remember buying them. I still have a green one), and Tom and I sat there in the near darkness just killing ourselves with what we considered really funny stuff. It’s just amazing how wrong people can be.


John Rolfe rehearses with our band Airmobile in the basement of a building at what is now Southern Maine Community College. This was summer 1973, the school was then known as Southern Maine Vocational-Technical Institute, and the building was the residence of bassist Glen Tracy, whose father worked at the college. Hubley Archives.

The Thunderbirds (previously Airmobile. It gets confusing) are back in the Hubley basement in this image from 1974. At left is bassist Glen Tracy. The drummer is Eddie Greco. Hubley Archives.

One product in particular made us very proud. Totaling 13 installments, it was called, with occasional variations, “The Captain Spoon Show.” As Captain Spoon, Tom carried the verbal weight of the show and had the best jokes. I was Mr. Music, plunking out chords for the ad-lib songs and sprinkling random notes over Tom’s verbal riffing. (Capt. Distortion and Capt. Spoon, eh? I think “Spoon” came first.)

Despite a few recurring bits, we pretty much winged each episode, exploring every corner of offensive adolescent spontaneity we could find. Between making music and “Captain Spoon,” we felt pretty special, which the thugs at South Portland High School rewarded with accusations, which sometimes escalated into physical harassment, of being gay. An enlightened era.

Tom and I remained friends through the SPHS grief and through his parents shipping him off briefly to private school to get him away from me. (Despite their fears, there was no gay sex, no booze, no drugs; just colored lights, stupid humor, music that gradually got better and an abused tape recorder). What did end Tom’s and my friendship was starting a band when we were 17. And, of course, becoming mature.

The Hubley studio post-paint job, 1974. Hubley Archives.

Years of a basement

Where most of my contemporaries in the early 1970s were absorbing the influences of school, sports, clubs, church and who knows what all, my character was being molded by records, radio, Rolling Stone and Hit Parader magazines — and my parents’ cellar.

For a while around 1970–71, on the basis of no experience and no professional equipment, I pretended that crummy room was a recording studio. I even “produced,” and Tom and I played on, an album-on-tape by his then-girlfriend, who sang and wrote all the songs. Later Tom came down with some friends from a religious organization and we tried to record “Hand Me Down My Walking Cane.”

The Hubley basement studio at its apogee, in the mid-1970s. Note the Chevy hubcap ash tray, the three tambourines hanging from a beam, and the Carmencita psychedelic guitar at right. Hubley Archives.

A few years later — I was 20 and really should have known better — I pretended it was a nightclub and invited cronies down for drinks and performances. Friends knew to bypass the regular house entrance and come in through the cellar door, which was reminiscent of a bomb shelter entryway. 

The room was at its apogee then. Somewhere along the way I formally demarcated my space with tie-dyed muslin curtains (my father used the other half of the room for his own self-indulgences). With eager support from my mother — who was probably happy that I wanted to do something down there besides play loud guitar, or get drunk and lie on the floor listening to Hank Williams on headphones — I painted the moldering concrete walls in 1974.

Ensconced in the ass-numbing maroon easy chair, Ken Reynolds appreciates the Hubley cellar in 1977. Hubley Archives.

The standard of furnishings rose slightly, as I replaced old Hubley discards with newer ones. Gone was the old mattress and frame that served more to mock than to make possible any possibilities of l’amour. In addition to the original ass-numbing stuffed chair, there was a car bench seat (later replaced by the old pink family sofa) and a giant hassock covered in limeade-green fabric. There was a Chevy hubcap for an ashtray, although nobody much was smoking.

More important, the standard of musical furnishings rose markedly. Thanks to real jobs, first at the King Cole potato chip factory and then at the Jordan March department store (both establishments are long gone), I had a real stereo, real guitars and real amplifiers. Thanks again to Dad, I had my own tape recorder, a big heavy graduation-present Sony TC-540.

The Fashion Jungle poses for a publicity image in Steve Chapman’s basement, 1987. Photo by Minolta self-timer. Hubley Archives.

Solo, casually with friends, or with bands, I went on to make countless hours of music in the room. (During the summer of 1974, the first year of the “nightclub,” I was unemployed and spent nearly all my time there recording and writing songs. That didn’t help the possibilities of l’amour at all, to say nothing of the development of any sense of responsibility, but it was a useful musical immersion.)

It was the band work that justified and made real my musical aspirations. From Truck Farm to Airmobile, from the Mirrors all the way to the 1985 incarnation of the Fashion Jungle, all my bands rehearsed in the Hubley basement at some time or other. I extend eternal gratitude to my parents, who were very generous and tolerant of high-decibel band rehearsals two or three evenings a week. 

Those were wonderful days in the cellar. Recordings came out of there that I’m still proud to share today. Because we were young, music was still new territory and we had the energy and drive to explore it. We rode out on rhythm and loudness like cowboys. It made our brains feel good to develop music together.

And we had a lot of laughs. I’ll never forget the late-night load-ins after a gig — the gingerly descent with an amp in arms through the concrete bulkhead; wrangling tall, skinny Shure Vocalmaster speakers in through a cellar window; standing in the driveway at 2 a.m. divvying up the buck-three-eighty we made at the door at Geno’s (and keeping my mother awake with our jawing); the jokes and happy exhaustion.

A basement of one’s own

In 1989, Gretchen Schaefer and I bought a house. At last we had a basement to do with as we wished: wash and hang laundry, store stuff, start seedlings. And make music. 

The largest of the four cellar rooms is indeed the music studio. It’s outfitted to a level that would have been incomprehensible to me in 1970, and I work there alone and with Gretchen as the country band Day for Night.

My former studio in parents’ house, after they moved to assisted living and the Dump Guys cleaned it out. Hubley Archives.

This room, too, has colored lights (a string of Christmas lights). The floor is crumbling like the one at my parents’, but it’s maroon instead of robin’s egg blue and most important, it’s dry. Back when we had bigger bands, we rehearsed there, lugged amps and drums up and down for gigs, kept a neighbor awake with our jawing in the driveway at 2 a.m.

Me in the current basement, 2017. (Hubley Archives)

But we use our room only when we need the equipment. It’s not a refuge or a hangout, because other parts of the house are much more comfortable. Gretchen and I make much more music in our living room, which is warm and bright and has windows. We even record there, on a digital unit that’s about the size of a sandwich and probably weighs one-fiftieth of the Sony reel-to-reel. (The last times we recorded on tape were in November 2009.)

Unlike my sisters, who made the South Portland room into a teen hangout only to move on quickly to adult activities, I was in no hurry to leave it. That room turned out to be a halfway house for adulthood, which I wanted to reach, but on my own slow timetable.

I didn’t get out much, but I practiced adult activities in that room — being a musician, being in a romance, entertaining friends in sophisticated ways — that I looked forward to enjoying in some sweet empowered by-and-by.

Which happens to be now.


A collection of notes, as in musical, from some different basements. (Help me find the old Chevy hubcap ashtray on E-Bay — why not buy the whole album on BandCamp or Nimbit?)

Caphead (Hubley) The Howling Turbines: Doug Hubley, guitar and vocal • Gretchen Schaefer, bass and supporting vocal • Ken Reynolds, drums. Recorded in the current basement, Aug. 8, 1999. In the late 1990s, I started seeing all these young guys wearing ball caps, driving around in small cars and looking coldly murderous. A fatal fight among some of them in a Denny’s parking lot one year gave me the first verse. (“Caphead,” “Don’t Sell the Condo” and “Let the Singer” copyright © 2010 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved. ASCAP.)

Candy Says (Reed) The Karl Rossmann Band in Ben and Hattie Hubley’s basement, winter 1981. Our exploration of the Velvet Underground songbook hits a high point as Jim Sullivan’s perfectly ingenuous vocal nails the spirit of this lyric. Jim, lead vocal, guitar • DH, supporting vocal, lead guitar • Chris Hanson, supporting vocal • Mike Piscopo, supporting vocal, bass • KR, drums.

Don’t Forget to Cry (B. Bryant–F. Bryant) Day for Night recorded this on tape in the current basement, November–December 2006. I piled up guitars, bass and tambourine on the four-track for Gretchen Schaefer and I to sing over. The remarkable thing about my relatively sophisticated recording technology is that in spite of it all, the sound quality of my recordings has hardly advanced over the cheesy stuff I made in the 1970s. To thine own self be true.

A Certain Hunger (Chapman) The Fashion Jungle at Mr. & Mrs. Hubley’s, September 1983. Steve Chapman, bass, and vocal • DH, guitar • Kathren Torraca, keyboard. We were rehearsing with a drum machine because KR was sidelined with a baseball injury. One of my favorite songs by Steve, and a worthy addition to the my-lover-is-a-vampire school of romantic art. (“A Certain Hunger” copyright © 1983 by Steven Chapman. All rights reserved.)

When I’m Up I Can’t Get Down (Telfer–Prosser–Jones) The Boarders: DH, guitar and vocal • GS, bass • Jonathan Nichols-Pethick, drums. A fabulous song by a hit-or-miss Celtic rock group, Oysterband. I have neither the dignity to spare nor the constitution for the lifestyle depicted here, but I sure can relate. A staple of the Boarders repertoire, one of my all-time favorites, recorded in the current basement on Oct. 15, 1995.

Polly (Clark) Day for Night: GS and DH, guitar and vocal. D4N had a Gene Clark jag that resulted in our learning four of his songs in one gulp in autumn 2008. Gretchen contributes an especially fine lead vocal on Clark’s mysterious “Polly.” Recorded in the current basement, Nov. 25, 2009.

Don’t Sell the Condo (Hubley) The Fashion Jungle: SC, DH, KR. One of my favorites of my songs and, I think, one of the Fashion Jungle’s best — too bad few people ever heard it. Gretchen knew an art dealer whose charismatic lover, prominent in the Old Port scene, was rumored to be a coke dealer, woman beater, Satan in the flesh, etc. This is the couple’s story as I imagined it. I wrote the lyric over gimlets in the lobby of the Eastland Hotel on a snowy afternoon while waiting for Gretchen to get out of class. This recording comes from a videotape that she made of the FJ in the Chapmans’ basement early in 1988.

She Lives Downstairs (Hubley–Piscopo–Reynolds–Sullivan) The Fashion Jungle: DH, lead vocal, lead guitar • Mike Piscopo, backing vocal, rhythm guitar (we were both playing Gretsches, hence the groovy sound) • KR, drums • Jim Sullivan, bass and backing vocal. Directly descended from the Mirrors via the Karl Rossmann Band, the FJ was our gesture at faster-louder-more fun music. We put an emphasis on original songs, but because none of us was a prolific writer, we undertook an ongoing exercise in collaborations like this. The Ken Reynolds lyric was based on an actual person. Recorded in Mr. and Mrs. Hubley’s basement, spring 1981. (“She Lives Downstairs” copyright © 1981 by Douglas L. Hubley, Michael Piscopo, Kenneth Reynolds, Jim Sullivan. All rights reserved.)

Let the Singer (Hubley) One of my few 1970s compositions that have held up. It’s a paean to the live fast–die young lifestyle that seemed very romantic until all those musicians I liked died young. This is a 1978 solo recording, done in my parents’ basement, for a submission to a WBLM-FM songwriting contest. (How could I not have won?!?)

Notes From a Basement text © 2017 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.

Wheels Within Wheels: Chapman Joins the Fashion Jungle

An image from a 1982 Fashion Jungle publicity shoot, featuring new guy Steve Chapman, at left. Ken Reynolds is in the center and I’m at the right. Photo by self-timer/Hubley Archives.

See a gallery of images from a 1982 Fashion Jungle publicity shoot. Click on an image to enlarge (in slideshow mode, click to go to next image).

(Go to the music.)

Existential commentators from the Roman tragedian Pacuvius* to Gene Clark have remarked on the wheel of fortune, the random engine of joy and suffering that seems to direct our lives.

First you’re up, as Gene sang it, then you’re down again. (*I never heard of him either. Thank you, Wikipedia.)

The wheel was spinning me two ways at once in autumn 1981. On the down side, as noted previously in this space, my band, the Fashion Jungle, was apparently falling apart just on the eve of its local breakthrough. Simultaneously with a string of fun, creatively auspicious and crowd-pleasing performances came announcements of impending departure from multi-instrumentalists Mike Piscopo and Jim Sullivan.

First you’re down . . . I mourn the demise of the original Fashion Jungle, symbolically sporting a sport coat, army shirt and the FJ logo T-shirt, designed by Kathren Torraca, later the FJ’s keyboardist. The logo was a shapely leg in camouflage hosiery and scarlet shoe. Photo by self-timer; Hubley Archives.

I didn’t like it, but I didn’t blame them (much) for going. I understood that if you have to work a crap job to put bread on the table, it’s still a crap job even if you have the best band in the world on the side.

I also learned, somewhat later, that Mike and Jim might have stayed around if drummer Ken Reynolds and I had committed to being in the band full time. And I can’t speak for Ken, but I couldn’t do it.

In contrast with my bandmates (and in betrayal of the punk-rock ethos of the day), I had just gotten comfortable. I was working in the industry of my dreams, journalism, at the Portland newspapers of the Guy Gannett publishing empire.

In addition to my weekend job in the Gannett clip library (we never called it the “morgue”), that summer I had begun to publish as a music writer, encouraged by features editor Jon Halvorsen. (My first byline appeared on an Evening Express story about the emergence of a punk/New Wave scene in Portland.)

Days I was attending the University of Southern Maine, reading Kafka and writing about the role of the middle class in the French Revolution. But as nice as the book-learning was, the best thing about USM was the girl I found there. An artist, Gretchen Schaefer and I met in a philosophy-of-art class in September 1981, hit it off big time, and were dating by November.

In fact, our paths had crossed previously, if anonymously. The first time was in 1980 at the Downtown Lounge, where we were both out carousing with friends and our respective partners. (I understood from G. later that it was a rare night out for her, a break from the gruelling schedule at the dairy farm where she and her husband worked.) She was wearing striped overalls and looking very winsome. I took no action except to form an indelible mental image.

. . . then you’re up again. Gretchen Schaefer on New Year’s Eve, 1981, Parson Smith House. Hubley Archives.

The second encounter was at the Gannett library. Filing photographs one day in July 1981 (they were made of paper in those days, you young whippersnappers!), I came across a portrait of Gretchen taken at “Parson Smith Day,” an old-home-days kind of affair at the historic property in Windham where she was the docent.

She was spinning wool; her own hair was pulled back showing off her face, which wore an expression of concentration; she was sporting a short-sleeved top, along with various long flowing other things more appropriate than the top to a celebration of 18th-century technology.

Altogether  very winsome, as well as strangely familiar. (Later I realized the Parson Smith and DTL women were the same woman.) This time I took action. I stole the photo.

Then came USM, philosophy of art, my invitation for a first date — “We could go mug people”; you never know what’s going to strike a chord — and away we went.

Still going, in fact. So in wheel-of-fortune terms, very upside. After years of slinging boxes in the Jordan Marsh stockroom and beating my head against no-love’s brick wall, life — aside from the FJ’s travails — was feeling very good in my brain.

Hubley, Chapman, Reynolds. Hubley Archives.

And even as Mike was saying his good-byes (Jim was around into early winter 1982), the music wheel spun upward again with the appearance of Steve Chapman, a bassist, composer and singer. I think Steve came to us through an ad in Sweet Potato, the Portland music tabloid. He was married, had a child, cooked at a Middle Street restaurant and was a guitarist as well as bassist. I still remember our first meeting, in my parents’ basement in South Portland.

I started to write just now that Steve brought a whole new musical sensibility to the FJ, but that’s not quite true. Actually, while I’ve always had distinct (if not necessarily accurate) impressions of the musical character of anyone I’ve ever played with, impressions are all they were. Only recently have I thought more analytically, and hopefully objectively, about my collaborators’ interests and contributions.

So Steve had in common with Jim Sullivan a grasp of music theory far surpassing anyone else in the FJ. Where Jim’s music was more angular and Steve’s more lyrical, both wrote sophisticated melodies that I learned from, and that continue to stand out in the band’s catalog. (In contrast, my melodies were complicated but not too sophisticated. I was just throwing notes and chords at the wall and hoping some of them would stick together.)

That musicality was apparent in Steve’s work on bass, too. He anchored the music as a bassist should, but — being a lead guitarist as well as bassist — was clearly unwilling to be limited to the foundational role, and was effortlessly able to embellish a song with both taste and imagination. That ability stood the FJ in good stead through our several years as a trio.

So there we all were in late autumn, 1981: G. and I embarking on a hot little fling that we swore wouldn’t last but is still being flung; and Ken, Doug and new guy Steve, creating the Fashion Jungle that, in the years to come, became a noted presence in the Portland alt rock scene. Even in the case of the wheel of fortune, there are wheels within wheels.


The Fashion Jungle on LaRue (not Johnny) TV: For reasons I no longer remember, one of the LaRue twins, scions of the South Portland Chrysler-Plymouth dealership, made a video of the FJ during the last weeks of Jim Sullivan’s tenure. I took this photo off a monitor at the dealership during my only viewing of the video, in 1982. I think we were playing Leonard Cohen’s “There Is a War.” Hubley Archives.

Enough with the blah-blah! Let’s hear some Fashion Jungle: recordings made during the first year with bassist Steve Chapman. The order is not chronological. Ken Reynolds, drums. Doug Hubley, guitar and vocals. Recorded in the Hubleys’ basement on the Sony TC-540, with a Shure Vocalmaster head as mixer.

  • Sputnik (Chapman) This seldom-heard rocking instrumental was the first Chapman composition the Fashion Jungle learned. Fall 1982.
  • Phoney English Accent (Hubley) Bitchy and self-righteous enough that I regret it now (but not enough to withhold it), this FJ standard was my response to the posturing that had infected American punk and New Wave by the early 1980s. The original FJ learned it, but never recorded a complete version of it; Jim Sullivan of the founding lineup plays the sax here. December 1981.
  • Little Man, Long Shadow (Hubley) The lyric, inspired by a true story, likens a spurned lover to a terrorist. For some reason I was thinking of Andrew Malraux’s Spanish Civil War novel Man’s Hope as I wrote it, which led to my choice of something vaguely Spanish-sounding as the musical setting. The arrangement was inspired by a “New Romantic” band called Bow Wow Wow (some romantic name, huh?) that based all its material on extended drum rolls. Somewhat miraculously, the FJ recorded this complicated instrumental setting in one take. Summer 1982.
  • End of the Affair (Hubley) Back to the December 1981 recording session with Steve and Jim, who plays organ. Again, the original FJ learned but never recorded this number, which I started at an inn up on the Midcoast over Labor Day 1981. Another of the angst-ridden tales of star-crossed lovers that I can’t seem to help writing.
  • Groping for the Perfect Song (Hubley) A rough 1982 recording of a song that persisted throughout the FJ and right into the Howling Turbines days, 20 years later. I guess I was going through a little David Byrne period here.

“Sputnik” copyright © 1982 by Steven Chapman. “Phoney English Accent,” “Little Man, Long Shadow,” “Groping for the Perfect Song” and “End of the Affair” copyright © 2010, 2012, 1983 and 1984, respectively, by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.

Text copyright © 2012 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.

Standing on the Corner . . . Suitcase in My Hand

The Corner in its heyday: Patty Ann’s Superette, summer 1980. Scan from black & white negative/Hubley Archives.

See photo galleries featuring pictures of Corner scenes and people, and more images from the May 1981 Fashion Jungle publicity shoot. Click on an image to enlarge (in slideshow mode, click to go to next image).


The Corner is more than just the parking lot of a small South Portlandish variety store . . . Maybe you yourself have stood in the neon and watched the cars arrive and depart. Maybe you have launched an aircraft or an escape attempt. Maybe you have shown up, desperate for some laughs, and found no one there. For ten years now many legendary (many? five? six?) rock bands have emerged from the ferment at the Corner. You can see three of them . . .

— From a poster promoting the first Corner Night, 1980

Corner Night was a tough concept to market: A concert by bands that all had roots in a social scene based at a corner store in South Portland.

For those in the know, it felt deeply meaningful; or felt like it would be, if you could figure out what it meant. For those on the outside, well, Corner Night needed a lot of explanation.

Jeff

Jeff Stanton in the Stanton family quarters upstairs from the store on Ocean Street, 1980. Image scanned from black & white negative/Hubley Archives.

Do you know Peter Frame, the British music journalist who in the 1970s made “family trees” depicting the histories and personnel changes of rock bands? (One based on the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield hung on my wall for a long time, back before they were expensive collector’s items.) Something like that would help clarify the tangled history of the Corner scene, musically and otherwise. But, lacking the time and the facts to do a Frame-style tree, I can only tell you what I know. It seems like a lot, but is really only a narrow view through one of the many windows into Patty Ann’s Superette.

Best friends and musical collaborators since 1966, Tom Hansen and I fell into the Corner scene in 1970. It happened through Tom, who lived nearby and was friends with our South Portland High School classmates John Rolfe and Craig Stanton; and with Scott and Patty Ann Stanton, whose family owned the store. That was our little group. (Kathryn Onos DiPhilippo’s South Portland: A Nostalgic Look at Our Neighborhood Stores offers a concise history of the building at 512 Ocean St. and the Stantons’ tenure there.)

The Pathetix are featured in this poster for the 1980 Corner Night. At left, Gary Piscopo and Chuckie Frederick are the Pathetix who were with the band from first to last. I think, but am not sure, that the other guys are Rick Hendrickson and Terry McElroy. Hubley Archives.

Hanging around in the basement of the store, we were busy little teens, listening to Poco and the Blues Project, wearing bell bottom jeans, burning incense, etc. We hung around and talked, got snacks from the store, even tried our hand at launching a magazine (Gutroot— two issues, cranked out on a mimeograph at Craig’s house). But ultimately, as so often happens, there coalesced a band.

Truck Farm comprised Rolfe on rhythm guitar, me on lead guitar and most of the vocals, Hansen on drums, and a bassist named Ted Angel, whom I taught to play and supplied with my Hagstrom. For Tom and me, having a band was the realization of a three-year fantasy. And, typically enough, the fantasy couldn’t stand the strain.

Following a highly exciting string of weekly performances at the Cape Elizabeth Youth Center in summer and fall 1971, the Farm fell apart — but Rolfe and I continued to play together for the next three years, in bands like Lama (don’t ask), Airmobile and the Thunderbirds.

Music aside, the Corner remained a focus of my social life pretty much until the Stantons sold the store, in 1983. On summer evenings in the 1970s, after my shifts in the stock room at Jordan Marsh, I would bike to the store carrying the Silvertone 6-string; buy a Coke, pour half of it out and refill with bourbon; and sit on the bench by the mailbox singing country music.

Phil at the store

Phil Stanton working the food counter at Patty Ann’s, 1980. Scanned from a black & white negative/Hubley Archives.

The eldest Stanton sibling, Jeff, remains one of my closest friends, and I was buddies with Phil Stanton as well as Scott. Among other things, we killed many hours making Super 8 movies and building U-control model airplanes through the 1970s. Jeff used to borrow the family Dodge van to drive our equipment back in the big-amps-and-drums days, and still attends nearly every Day for Night performance.

A younger crowd, friends of Phil and Scott, gravitated to the Corner in the 1970s and early ‘80s. I must say, they were a more numerous and much livelier bunch than my original little clique, and very fun. It was a fairly wild and peripatetic group that, when not at the Corner, occupied the high ground where Officer’s Row once stood at Fort Williams; or held slapdash parties on the beach in Mill Cove. (Against all laws of neuroscience, I still clearly remember fragments of an ecstatically fun evening in 1981 with that Corner gang on the Stantons’ second-story deck. I was working at the newspaper, had very heavy hours and not much sleep, and was drilled, as we liked to say, on Ballantine ale — all adding up to the kind of bliss you can never get back.)

Mike with the Pathetix

Mike performs with the Pathetix during a dance party in Ferry Village, South Portland, 1981. Image scanned from black & white negative/Hubley Archives.

Among that Corner population were Mike Piscopo and his brother Gary. Don’t ask me how — I guess it was just what happened at the Corner — but by early 1977, Mike and I, a more peripheral Corner guy called Andrew Ingalls, and my Jordan Marsh co-worker Ken Reynolds were playing together as the Curley Howard Band. This, as you know if you follow this blog, led directly to the Mirrors, which played at the Downtown Lounge at the first Corner Night, in 1980, and to the Fashion Jungle, whose debut public performance took place the following year at the second Corner Night, at a place called Rock ‘n’ Roll Flavor.

Where the Mirrors, as previously noted, were both headliners and flatliners at the first Corner Night, we opened the show and shut out the competition the following year. That was a close-run thing: The manager of Rock ‘n’ Roll Flavor picked the day of Corner Night to disappear, and it took some telephone persuasion to get the building owner to agree to the show’s going on.

Filling out the bill at both Corner Nights were the Pathetix, consisting of Gary Piscopo and other denizens of the Corner; and the Foreign Students, led by John Rolfe and including his wife-to-be, Audrey Michaud; drummer Mike Alfiero, who continues to play with John (and with later-Fashion Jungle bassist Steve Chapman) in the Luxembourgs; and bassist Joe Marsh, brother of Ken’s and my Jordan Marsh stockroom colleague John Marsh.

The FJ looking soulful in a 1981 publicity image. From left, Ken Reynolds, Jim Sullivan, Mike Piscopo, DH. Scanned from a black and white negative/Hubley Archives.

Pretty incestuous. So I guess the point of all this, so far, is that in a small city like South Portland, “everyone knows everyone, for miles and miles around” (Ray Pennington and Roy Marcum, “Don’t Cheat in Our Hometown”). The bonds of acquaintance extended in all directions and, to really abuse the metaphor, wove a net that you could get a pretty good bounce off of.

But every metaphor has its limits, every dog has its day, all good things etc., and the warm relations at the Corner, or in the friendly Greater Portland community in general, weren’t enough to keep everybody around indefinitely. The summer of 1981, as previously noted, was glorious — and then it was over.

It ended with a thud when Mike Piscopo announced his intention to move to Texas in the fall with his fiancee, Joy Pearson. And the next blow didn’t fall far behind as Jim Sullivan, who like Piscopo was fed up with crap jobs*, followed his fellow multi-instrumentalist to the exit, heading for Boston.

Fashion Jungle set list, Corner Night 1981. Hubley Archives.

We performed three more times after Corner Night. We played in September and October at Kayo’s, a bar on Middle Street that was the successor, in terms of taste and talent, to the Downtown Lounge (in the audience for our second night there was Gretchen Schaefer, now my wife and bandmate). And we closed the book on the original FJ at the October wedding of — wait for it — yet another member of the Corner crowd.

We learned “Daddy’s Little Girl,” “Moonlight Bay,” “Everything Is Beautiful” (which sparked up a great conga line there in the Black Point Inn) and similar schmaltz at the request of the wedding party — an ignominious end to a band founded in the rejection of blanditude.

I was desolated. I couldn’t believe that Mike and Jim would just walk away from such a great band — but then, I never really found out what they thought about it all, either.

And anyway, the FJ wasn’t done with Ken and I yet.

*Jim Sullivan updates the record in April 2017.


And now for some music. The original Fashion Jungle in its first public performance — the second Corner Night, August 1981, on a bill with the Pathetix and the Foreign Students at Rock ‘n’ Roll Flavor, Portland, Maine. Apologies for the ugly sound: This recording came straight off the PA, hence the distortion and dominance of the vocals. Setting aside the poor quality of the recording, it’s pretty hot stuff.

Credits: Doug Hubley, lead guitars and vocals. Mike Piscopo and Jim Sullivan, see individual songs. Ken Reynolds, drums.

  • Little Cries (Hubley) Vitriolic lyrics about bedroom dishonesty set to an insanely complicated chord progression. The first song I wrote for the FJ. MP, bass. JS, sax.
  • Peacetime Hero (Sullivan) Jim’s distinctive contributions to the FJ catalog were sophisticated musical structures and politically attuned lyrics. Here he puts himself into the mind of a killer who can find no other way to have a place in society. For years after Jim’s departure, this remained in the FJ repertoire. JS, rhythm guitar, vocal; MP, bass.
  • Dumb Models (Reynolds-Hubley-Piscopo-Sullivan) A short-lived Fashion Jungle rule was that everyone had to bring in at least a fragment of original music each week. Here’s a result of that discipline: the lyrics are by KR, edited by me; the opening guitar riff was Piscopo’s; and we collectively put the whole thing together. MP, rhythm guitar, backing vocal; JS, bass, backing vocal.
  • Shortwave Radio (Hubley) This stayed in the repertoire for more than 20 years, from the FJ through the Howling Turbines. MP, bass; JS, organ.
  • Keep on Smiling (Hubley) The push for original material was so insistent that I revived this song created in 1973, when I was mad at one of my friends. These lyrics are melodramatic but the overall sense of angst still works. The big anthemic ending turned into something of an FJ characteristic. MP, backing vocal, bass. JS, backing vocal, organ.
  • She Lives Downstairs (Reynolds-Hubley-Piscopo-Sullivan) Like “Dumb Models,” this was a product of the short-lived “song-per-week” phase when everyone tried to bring in at least a musical fragment that we could work with. This is based around a typically earnest KR lyric. Note the nods to “Gloria” and “Gimme Some Loving.” MP, backing vocal, rhythm guitar. JS, backing vocal, bass.

“Shortwave Radio” and “Little Cries” copyright © 1981 by Douglas L. Hubley. “Peacetime Hero” copyright © 1981 by James Sullivan. “She Lives Downstairs” and “Dumb Models” copyright © 2011 by Douglas Hubley, Michael Piscopo, Kenneth Reynolds and James Sullivan. “Keep on Smiling” copyright © 2010 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.

Text copyright © 2012 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.

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