Notes From a Basement

By Doug Hubley: Sounds and reflections of a musical life

Archive for the tag “Steve Chapman”

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.

Cowlix, Coming and Going

“Je t’aime” by Doug Hubley from “20 Years of a Basement,” Aug. 10, 1991. (“Je t’aime” copyright © 1983 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved. Visit Hubley Industries Music on Vimeo.)


The summer of 1991 was my 20th anniversary of publicly performing with rock bands, and I wanted to celebrate.

I took a very literal approach to the celebration. It would be a concert featuring not only my current band, the Cowlix, but — I hoped — members of previous bands. I didn’t invite everyone I’d ever played with, but beckoned the most fun and creative people, dating back to 1971 and Truck Farm, my first real band.

Of course, not every invitee could, or wanted to, take part.

So in the event, in addition to the Cowlix, what we wound up with was the Fashion Jungle of late 1984: bassist Steve Chapman; drummer Ken Reynolds; multi-instrumentalist Jim Sullivan, up from the Boston area; and keyboardist Kathren Torraca, who came back East from California. (Ken and I had first played together in the Curley Howard Band (1977), and Jim had joined us in the Mirrors (1979-80), which segued into the FJ in 1981.)


Gretchen and Doug express a basic tenet of their philosophy.


I titled the event “20 Years of a Basement” (pun intentional. And yes, “basement” is a recurring theme in my work, so sue me). We rented Sprague Hall, a popular old community hall under the trees in Cape Elizabeth, for Saturday, Aug. 10, 1991.

What an exciting day. We had grand plans. For the audience we invited everyone we could think of, and many of them even showed. We asked our friend Alden Bodwell to videotape it, with excerpts from the result presented in this post (and on this Archives page). We worked out a big finale, of Leonard Cohen’s “First We Take Manhattan” and Graham Parker’s “Pouring It All Out,” a signature number from the first bands Ken and I had been in, 14 years prior.

I still dream about setting up masses of musical equipment, walls of amps and drums and miles of cables. I think the elaborate rig we erected in Sprague Hall planted the seed for those dreams. It took most of the afternoon for us to prepare for the evening concert — there the longest were rhythm guitarist and my girlfriend Gretchen Schaefer, singer Marcia Goldenberg, Ken and also Steve, who contributed PA equipment.


Marcia Goldenberg of the Cowlix sings Billy Walker’s hit.


Steve ran the sound for the Cowlix sets, and turned the board over to Cowlix bassist Ted Papadopoulos for the Fashion Jungle numbers, which Steve played on. Steve, in other words, was sharing that responsibility with his replacement in the Cowlix. It was still a bit awkward even though nearly two years had passed since Steve left the band.

But in these chronicles, for whatever that’s worth, Ted is just a footnote. (Sorry Ted!) He was the last in a succession of would-be Cowlix bassists who came and went, lacking the interest, equipment, ability, maturity and/or mental stability, in at least one case, for the connection to click.


The “Québécois Medley” — “You Married My Daughter (But Yet You Didn’t)” and “St. Anne’s Reel” — stayed with the Cowlix from first to last.


Ted was a deejay and musician who relied on gigs for his income, unlike the rest of us dilettantes. Getting scant return from his investment of time with the ‘Lix, he was gone by September. He performed with us only twice, at Sprague Hall and at a barn dance that same month, at the York County home of a colleague of Gretchen’s.

And those two gigs were the Cowlix’ only performances in 1991.


Fiddler/saxophonist Jim Sullivan joined the Cowlix for several numbers, including the best-known country song ever to come out of Maine.


It was quite a contrast from one year to the next. In 1991, two measly jobs. In 1990, we had a recording session, a WMPG-FM spot and at least seven performances, including opening spots for the Sir Douglas Quintet and Bill Monroe — both at Portland’s best-ever night club, Raoul’s.

(The Sir Doug job was very fun. Doug Sahm was a sweet and generous guy, we played well and of course the SDQ, well, there you go! The Monroe date, another story. The bluegrass great was past his prime, his blowhard bus driver bombarded us with bombast, Raoul’s sound guy disliked us and the bluegrass fanatics downright despised us.)


The Cowlix with a song that never made the country charts.


Another 1990 date was a charity event on the beach at Small Point on an August evening. We were on a makeshift stage on the sand, playing rough country music as waves of humid salt air washed over us.

Playing for our supper (not) on the beach at Small Point. (Hubley Archives)

Playing for our supper (not) on the beach at Small Point. (Hubley Archives)

Our one condition for doing the show had been that they give us dinner. This well-heeled crowd really didn’t want to give us dinner. I think we each got a hot dog and they begrudged us that. That’s how you stay rich, I guess.

We opened for Darien Brahms and the Soul Miners in September 1990 at the Drydock, a waterfront bar in Portland that’s still going strong. It was pouring rain and the management made us carry our equipment up a fire escape to the second-floor performance room. (This experience inspired my song “Thousand Pounds of Rain.”) We played well, as I recall. The punk dimension of our country sound had coalesced.

The setlist from the Drydock. Note the paper and marking: By this point we were using "setlist forms," four-leaf self-duplicating forms that we had scavenged from somewhere.(Hubley Archives)

The setlist from the Drydock. Note the paper and marking: By this point we were using “setlist forms,” four-leaf self-duplicating forms that we had scavenged from somewhere. (Hubley Archives)

Our next drummer was in the Dry Dock audience, but we didn’t know that.

“I remember it well for two reasons,” says that musician, Jonathan Nichols-Pethick. “The first was that I was trying to recreate myself as a smoker . .  . and was dragging away awkwardly on a Lucky Strike when my good friend Jimmy McGirr, Darien’s bassist, turned to me during the Cowlix’s rendition of ‘(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding’ and said, ‘That’s beautiful eh?’

“I had to agree. The second was that I made a mental note that I wanted to be in that band.”

Which finally came to pass. But how Jonathan came — and went — and then came back to stay, about a year after the Drydock, is another story.

Darien would again ask us to open for her, this time at a Halloween party at the Maine College of Art. All I remember about that is a giant conga line undulating around the room, in the old Portland Public Library building, while Ken, and I on accordion, played . . . I don’t know what. There was no conga-line music in the ‘Lix repertoire.

I never knew it was so easy to win fame: The Cowlix profiled by the Evening Express' Barry Mothes, 1990. Hubley Archives.

The Cowlix profiled by the Evening Express’ Barry Mothes, 1990. I meant to say, “An additional instrument.” Hubley Archives.

I’m sorry I don’t recall more of that gig, because it was Ken’s last for the next 10 months, although we didn’t know it at the time. And I also don’t remember why he left. Maybe he was just tired of country music, never his favorite genre in any case. And working second and third shifts at the post office was no day at Small Point

But he returned for “20 Years of a Basement” (and for Shyla and Bill Murray’s barn dance, where we met the fifth member of the 1992-94 Cowlix, fiddler Melinda McCardell).

And how did “20 Years” work out? The weather was sunny and humid for the biggest party we ever threw. I remember Gretchen, Steve, his wife Jeri and probably Ken standing outside the building passing around a bottle of Jack Daniels, the descending August sun shining through the trees.

Between Darien Brahms and the Soul Miners and the worldly electropop of Too Much Truth, where did the garage-country of the Cowlix fit in? (Hubley Archives)

Our first non-open-mic gig in 1990. Between Darien Brahms and the Soul Miners and the worldly electropop of Too Much Truth, where did the garage-country of the Cowlix fit in? (Hubley Archives)

Never one to search for an original idea when there was one worth stealing, I copped Talking Heads’ conceit from the film Stop Making Sense and structured the program such that I would begin with a song, Gretchen would join me for the second number, Marcia would come in next and finally Ken, Ted — and in a special guest appearance Jim Sullivan, on fiddle and mandolin — would complete the set.

We alternated sets with the Fashion Jungle, which also began small (Steve, Ken and Doug) and got bigger. I wore a Col. Sanders tie for the country stuff and one of my skinny neckties for the FJ.

The Cowlix did well — four of the five players were solid while my singing and guitar were somewhat erratic. The reunited FJ, which had time for only a few short rehearsals after years apart, had shaky moments but produced gratifyingly long stretches of our old sound.

The 'Lix feeling licked in April 1991. (Hubley Archives)

The ‘Lix feeling licked in April 1991. (Hubley Archives)

There was something of a crowd, including my sisters and father and a strong delegation from the Corner. Some folks wanted to dance. Marcia kept turning the house lights off for the sake of atmosphere — we had no stage lights (us? Lighting? Really? Seriously?) — and Alden kept turning them back on for the sake of the video.

We closed with “Pouring It All Out” (having running out of time for “Manhattan”). We chased our friends out at midnight because the masters of Sprague Hall had strict rules about closing time.

And in the midst of all that, quietly and with barely a thought, we closed the book once and for all on the Fashion Jungle, 10 years after it began.


Watch video of the Fashion Jungle at “20 Years of a Basement.”

Hear (and buy) selections from the Fashion Jungle’s performances:

Copyright © by Douglas L. Hubley: “Je t’aime,” 1983; “Breaker’s Remorse,” 2010; “Little Cries,” 1983. All rights reserved.

“Rubber Hammer” copyright © 2013 by Steven Chapman, Douglas Hubley and Kenneth Reynolds. All rights reserved.

Copyright © by Steven Chapman: “Sporting Life,” 1982; “Curious Attraction,” 1984. All rights reserved.

“Peacetime Hero” copyright © 1981 by James Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Notes From a Basement text copyright © 2013 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.

 

The Cowlix: New Basement, No Bass-ment

Current and former Cowlix, 1993. From left: Gretchen Schaefer, Ken Reynolds, Steve Chapman, Jeri Chapman, Marcia Goldenberg, Doug Hubley. Jeff Stanton photo.

Current and former Cowlix, 1993. From left: Gretchen Schaefer, Ken Reynolds, Steve Chapman, Jeri Chapman, Marcia Goldenberg, Doug Hubley. Polaroid (not Instagram) photo by Jeff Stanton.

In November 1989, just about eight years after we first met him, bassist Steve Chapman left our band.

Or he could have said that the band left him.

Drummer Ken Reynolds and I had started working with Steve in 1981, when he showed up just in time to rescue our tottering Fashion Jungle. The FJ went on to generate a respectable local buzz with its sharp-edged, romantic original music through the 1980s.

But by the end of that decade, the edge was dulling and creative fatigue setting in. We responded with a turn toward classic country and other rootsy forms. At first it was almost frivolous, just a caprice; but I love old country music. Once in, I wanted to go deeper. (Still do.)

So by that November we were calling ourselves the Cowlix, and the FJ trio had expanded to a quintet. Rhythm guitarist Gretchen Schaefer, my partner, joined during spring 1989. Singer Marcia Goldenberg came on board just weeks before we ended our musical association with Steve.

Cronies-Late80s1709

The Cronies at the Schaefer-Hubley home soon after we moved in. From left: Liz Torraca, Jeri Chapman, Doug Hubley, Gretchen Schaefer, Steve Chapman, Alden Bodwell (in a dramatic recitation) and Ken Reynolds. Jeff Stanton photo.

That November night the five of us convened at the little house that Gretchen and I had just bought on the outskirts of Portland. (At last, after all those years — a basement of our own!) For Marcia, it must have been strange to be so new on the scene and see so much history being unpacked. That baggage made the meeting tough, with plenty of hurt to go around. (But we have remained good friends with Steve and even play music with him from time to time.)

Much was said that night, but the bones of contention boiled down to two: Steve wasn’t enjoying the music, and couldn’t rehearse as often as we felt necessary.

So there we were. Steve is a really good musician and we felt that loss. Yet sometimes you respond like John Cleese’s Holy Grail knight whose limbs keep getting lopped off: Losing a member can have a bracing effect, up to a point. Though we auditioned bassists for the next year (a series of adventures worth a post of their own), we never let basslessness hold us back.

Just the opposite, in fact. Necessity being the mother of invention, or at least the mother of playing the hand you’re dealt, we set out to own our bassless sound. We branded it a virtue and never apologized for it. (And never mentioned it again after Gretchen started playing bass, in 1992.)

From a contrarian standpoint, the timing was good. Commercial music in general and country in particular — remember the “hat acts”? — were getting nothing but slicker and shinier. We, on the other hand, mustered up a big rough instrumental sound driven by Ken’s powerhouse drumming and Gretchen’s straight-on strumming. I wove my guitar into the gaps, floating between bass-ish and lead parts on a miasma of digital delay.

An early Cowlix songlist. Hubley Archives.

An early Cowlix songlist. Note the categorizing by dance style, including pogo. Hubley Archives.

Then there was Marcia. I learned about her through our mutual friend Suzanne Murphy — during the course of an interview, ironically, for a story I was doing about the Downtown Lounge, a scene that had inspired the FJ.

Marcia brought a lot of energy, a strong voice with a retro country feel and a backlog of good material she was eager to try. After the Fashion Jungle, where a single lead voice and minimal supporting parts was the order of the day, I welcomed the chance to do two-part through-harmonies.

With Steve, we had already put together a country song portfolio that, going thin and wide rather than deep and focused, represented Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Willie Nelson, the Everly Brothers, Ian Tyson and others. Now we dug a little deeper.

An unrevealing image of a Cowlix performance on the beach at Small Point, Maine. Hubley Archives.

An unrevealing image of a Cowlix performance on the beach at Small Point, Maine, August 1990. Hubley Archives.

We picked up songs by Bill Monroe and Lefty Frizzell, and more by Hank, the Everlys and Cash. Marcia’s contributions included the Patsy Cline hit “Seven Lonely Days” and Billy Walker’s excellent “Ancient History.”

We revived a few from Ken’s and my old band the Mirrors — notably classics received third-hand via Gram Parsons like “We’ll Sweep Out the Ashes” and “That’s All It Took,” as well as Parsons’ cool adaptation of the R&B song “You Don’t Miss Your Water” (which popped up for a third time in the early repertoire of Gretchen’s and my current band, Day for Night. You can’t keep a good song and well-learned accordion part down.)

An early Cowlix song list in Gretchen's handwriting.

An early Cowlix song list in Gretchen’s handwriting. “P.O.H.M.” is “Poor Old Heartsick Me.”

We also took a swing at the Louvin Brothers, those paragons of vocal harmony and sibling disharmony, who were so influential on later musicians like Parsons.  During this phase I walked into the sainted record store Amadeus Music, on Fore Street in Portland, and grandly announced, “I want to buy the entire Louvin Brothers catalog.”

They were able to come up with two LP compilations. We learned three songs by Charlie and Ira and thought we were pretty cool. (Dilettantes! Having pretty much mined out the Louvins’ secular catalog, Day for Night secretly wishes we were religious so we could take on their gospel work. “Satan is real . . .”)

Classic country was the focus, but stylistic promiscuity is hard to shake off and we started looting other genres almost from the start. Some cozied up easily with country music — folk-dance tunes, for example. My accordion playing had become somewhat presentable, and we used it on a few folk instrumentals from Québec (and later Poland, Mexico and Finland).

Covering Maine music as a journalist had introduced me to a broad range of folk styles, which taught me how important sheer danceability was to musical forms other than rock. I became preoccupied with giving audiences dance music — probably a reaction against the FJ, which had always had a hard time getting people onto the floor. These two-beats and waltzes filled that bill nicely.

Half the Cowlix and all of the future Day for Night. Hubley Archives.

Half the Cowlix and all of the future Day for Night, circa 1990. Hubley Archives.

A few rock songs made it into the mix too, chosen carefully to sound good despite the lack of bass. For instance, Them’s “Here Comes the Night,” whose two-beat sections sounded good with my Luther Perkins boom-chick guitar; and the Beatles’ “There’s a Place,” which had a nice harmony. Our biggest stretch was “Around My Heart,” by X, a band with whom we felt a strange affinity. We sounded punkish enough and had a big enough beat to make it work.

In short, we sounded like nobody else at a time when country music was enjoying one of its periodic boomlets. Greater Portland was engulfed in an Americana wave at the time, and our peers were bands like Cattle Call, Diesel Doug and the Long Haul Truckers, the Piners and Slaid Cleaves’ Moxie Men. If each had a distinctive niche, none was more distinctive than ours.

In those early days of the Cowlix, a band that would last until 1994, I felt the same kind of missionary zeal that had been so energizing at the launch of the FJ. Dance music! Good country, not schlock à la the Mirrors! The bass-free sound! The conceptual rigor was shaky, but the excitement was real.

And we knew we were on the right track, because people kept giving us work.


Hear the Cowlix performing one of our rare originals, my “Slow Poison,” in a rough rehearsal recording from 1990.

“Slow Poison” copyright 2010 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.

“Notes From a Basement” copyright 2013 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.

An Old Friend I Happened to See

The cronies at the Bramhall Pub, late 1980s. From left: Alden Bodwell, Kathren Torraca, Elizabeth Torraca, Ken Reynolds, Doug Hubley, Gretchen Schaefer, Jeff Stanton, Steve Chapman. Photographer: Jeri Chapman.

The cronies at the Bramhall Pub, late 1980s. From left: Alden Bodwell, Kathren Torraca, Elizabeth Torraca, Ken Reynolds, Doug Hubley, Gretchen Schaefer, Jeff Stanton, Steve Chapman. Photographer: Jeri Chapman.

A band in transition: Hear the Fashion Jungle morph into the Cowlix before your very ears!


We tend to think of country music as a product of the South and the West, but really, the name tells you where it’s from. It’s the music of small towns and no towns, lightless state routes and endless rail lines. It’s the soundtrack for the long ride between where you’ve been and where you’re bound.

There’s a space like those hollow miles in my emotional interior. It feels like open landscape, cold wind, bright stars and a lonesome voice backed by pedal steel on the car radio. This region is something like home to the inner me. I frequently seek its outside analogs — in a bottle, on a train, on a record, or with guitar in hand performing with Day for Night.

Nearly every kind of music has its charms for me, and it’s a pleasure to play the small portfolio of genres within my technical grasp. But for me country is the terminus, the beginning and end of the railroad that I ride through music’s vast territory. My musical career has been defined largely by either running from country or returning to it.

A Fashion Jungle publicity shot, taken c. 1987 in Steve's cellar. Photo by Minolta self-timer. Hubley Archives

A Fashion Jungle publicity shot, taken c. 1987 in Steve’s cellar. Photo by Minolta self-timer. Hubley Archives

The Fashion Jungle, the band I was in that came closest to fame, was born in the flight from country and died in the return to it — well, that’s one version. History is too complicated and involves too many people to simplify into a turn of phrase that suits one’s transient narrative needs. Some of you reading this will have your own narratives and your own turns of phrase to serve them (send ’em in!).

However, in any event, the ole high and lonesome was among the kickees as the Mirrors drop-kicked much of our baggage to become the FJ, in 1981. And country was where we turned eight years later as the FJ’s arty romantic edge started to dull.

August 1988 was something of a pinnacle for the late FJ, drummer Ken Reynolds, bassist Steve Chapman and me. It was our second year after Steve rejoined the band. Our performance at the Maine Festival, in Portland’s Deering Oaks Park on the 13th, was one that I recall as a rare occurrence of an ideal: It was a prestigious gig, we played well, dancers filled the tent under the nighttime trees, there was that sense of us all, everyone under the tent, being in the game together.

When the Fashion Jungle decided in 1989 to become its own opening act, playing classic country and old rock, Gretchen Schaefer joined on rhythm guitar. Here she is with my Gretchen Anniversary Model. Hubley Archives.

When the Fashion Jungle decided in 1989 to become its own opening act, playing classic country and old rock, Gretchen Schaefer joined on rhythm guitar. Here she is with my Gretchen Anniversary Model. Hubley Archives.

But it was a high point on a path that wasn’t leading anywhere. I, at least, was getting that end-of-the-party feeling. The songwriting, our purported reason for being, was drying up — dwindling not in quantity, because we were as non-prolific as ever, but in spark. Our newer songs felt strained and the older ones, well, old.

We learned four original songs in 1988: my “Don’t Sell the Condo” and the collaborative efforts “Dance,” “Rubber Hammer” and “Complaint,” the last of which went unperformed. All respectable, but only “Condo” seems to transcend its particulars the way the best FJ numbers do. Maybe it attained the FJ’s own version of the ole high and lonesome.

The set list from the Reynolds family function, April 1989.

The set list from the Reynolds family function, April 1989.

One of Ken’s siblings was planning a big family celebration in April 1989 and invited us to play. We understood that virtually none of our regular material would go over well with this older, largely rural crowd. Needed were songs that we could learn quickly and that the Reynolds clan would enjoy, and, of course, us too.

So we decided to learn several ’60s hits and, crucially, a bunch of country songs. It seemed like a lighthearted and frivolous choice at the time, to the extent that we developed this idea of playing country music as the opening act for ourselves, for the FJ. We toyed with names like the Prairie Oysters and the Cowpokers, ultimately and more tastefully settling on the Cowlix.

But despite how lightly we turned in this new direction, it turned out to be momentous for at least two reasons.

As written above, returning to country was a sort of repudiation of the very founding of the FJ. (This has occurred to me only in the writing of this piece, as opposed to most of the heavy thoughts in Notes, which are the result of decades of stewing.) Ken, Mike Piscopo, Jim Sullivan and I had embraced original New Wavy rock in part as a reaction against all of the roots music we had performed as the Mirrors, including a heavy dose of often-dreary country.

In those days, to quote the slogan of the hallowed Downtown Lounge, the goal was faster-louder-more fun! But eight years into the FJ’s career, as we dragged through songs four or more years old and struggled to come up with new ones, all the while burdened by our sacred oath to high concept and danceable romanticism, and with carefree youth buried down deep in the pile of outstanding bills, country seemed — to me anyway — like much more fun.

Doug and Gretchen in a festive moment, Christmas 1988, Lovell, Maine. Photo by Minolta self-timer. Hubley Archives.

Doug and Gretchen in a festive moment, Christmas 1988, Lovell, Maine. Photo by Minolta self-timer. Hubley Archives.

The other, much more consequential outcome of the FJ’s stylistic detour was that we added a new member: rhythm guitarist Gretchen Schaefer, then my significant other and now my wife, too.

Gretchen had played folk music back in college. She knew Hank Williams from her father’s repertoire and inherited his old Gibson archtop. And she was central to the FJ organization long before she started playing with us. She worked as hard as anybody hauling equipment, she tended the admission table at Geno’s (in the words of Iggy Stooge, no fun), and, in a contribution more in line with her specific gifts, made a lot of graphic art for the band.

When we asked her to join us on guitar in the spring of 1989, it was because we needed rhythm guitar and because it seemed like it would be fun. But it turned out to be the beginning of a musical partnership between the two of us, largely devoted to country music, that’s still going strong.


Hear rehearsal recordings of two songs by the Fashion Jungle — er, Cowpokers — I mean, the Cowlix. Recorded in Steve’s basement, 1989.

  • You Know How It Is (Hubley) Dating from 1978, this lament about the working life is drawn from my experiences as a sensitive young artiste having my soul destroyed as a “materials handler” (stockboy) at the South Portland branch of the Jordan Marsh department store. Jordan Marsh is gone, and I am still here.
  • I Remember (Just as Fast as I Forget) (Hubley) The iffy lyrical premise didn’t deter me from pitching it to the Fashion Jungle as we developed our “opening act,” the country-flavored Prairie Oysters. But this is more “countrypolitan” than country, down to the cha-cha rhythm and Slim Whitman falsetto.

“You Know How It Is” and “I Remember Just as Fast as I Forget” copyright © 2010 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.

 

Fashion Jungle: Audio out — Video in


Above: The Fashion Jungle rehearses “Don’t Sell the Condo” in Steves basement, early 1988. Videographer: Gretchen Schaefer. | Buy this soundtrack!


They say that when a door closes, a window opens.

I say that when a door closes, one should sit quietly with a magazine and wait for it to open again.

But sometimes that never happens. In the late ’80s, confronted with a closing door, I did actually find a window to crawl out through.

 

 

Gretchen Schaefer and I were trying to record a rootsy version, guitar and accordion, of “Good King Wenceslas” for a Christmas Greeting Tape in December 1987 when the recording device, a Sony TC-540 reel-to-reel tape recorder, became balky about tracking on one of its two channels.

Soon thereafter it wouldn’t capture much sound at all. The problem was diagnosed, vaguely, as deteriorating electronic components.

That meant that after nearly 20 years, I had suddenly lost a foundation of my identify. I had never recorded prolifically, but making music on tape was integral to my self-image.

I think the loss was more emotional than functional: The Sony would still play tapes back, which preserved its role as my personal Wayback Machine. And I could make audio recordings with other equipment — a succession of cassette recorders that afforded neither the nice crisp sound of the Sony (which, if you have played many of the songs that accompany these blogs, you have likely experienced) nor its handy capability for overdubbing.

 

Richard Julio introduces us at Video A Go-Go. 


I wasn’t devastated. I knew that once I started making more money, I could simply buy a new reel-to-reel. I could have tried harder to get the Sony fixed. (And maybe I realized on some level that, in any case, digital technology was ultimately going to change the game completely).

I just didn’t like this failure of the Sony’s. As someone with a lifelong silly habit of anthropomorphizing inanimate objects, I felt like a trusted friendship had turned bad.

A boy and his tape recorder, 1982. Hubley Archives.

A boy and his tape recorder, 1982. Hubley Archives.

I wasn’t devastated, but I was unsettled. I flailed for seven years. I made recordings on all kinds of unlikely machines, including a visibility-yellow Sony all-weather boombox and a tiny Walkman that I bought for work-related interviews. It was good training in adaptability, but the sound was never great.

So that was the door.

And what was the window?

It was video. Even as I was thrashing around in search of an audio recording solution, my band, the Fashion Jungle, suddenly got a few opportunities for video recording — opportunities that resulted in the best documentary materials of the band’s last stages.

 

 

Our friend Alden Bodwell worked for a media company and was able to borrow video gear. His generosity resulted in two concert videos, including a date at the Brunswick, a nightspot in Old Orchard Beach, Maine. The video of “Little Cries” posted below is from that gig, which Alden shot on a foggy night in May 1988.

 

 

Gretchen, then my partner and now my wife, in early 1988 borrowed a camcorder from the school where she was student-teaching. Back then we were rehearsing in a studio that bassist Steve Chapman had built in his basement. “(Drummer Ken Reynolds completed the ensemble.) “Don’t Sell the Condo,” at the top of this post, represents Gretchen’s recording of a typical rehearsal.

Finally, most of the clips here come from one of the stranger episodes in the FJ annals. Since 1986, Gretchen and I had been involved with South Portland Television, a public-access cable operation headquartered at Southern Maine Technical College (now Southern Maine Community College) just down Willard Beach from us. Somehow the idea arose of doing a fundraiser for SPTV (slogan: “Where video meets the sea,” which I suggested ironically and they took to heart.)

 

 

We enlisted two other bands for the concert that was cablecast live on May 21, 1988. The Brood, managed by rare-record dealer Richard Julio, was an all-female ensemble led by Chris Horne and dedicated to ’60s garage band sounds. The Holy Bones were fronted by singer-songwriter Darien Brahms, who remains a force in the Portland music scene; and the late Manny Verzosa, remembered as a promising talent lost way too soon.

It was a hot, humid and nervous-making night. The TV crew were all SPTV volunteers, including Alden. The show was cablecast from the SMTC cafeteria. There were audio problems, thanks in part to the distance from the cafeteria to the control booth, in a separate building.

In fact, I don’t remember it actually being that much fun — I think the Brood and the Holy Bones left after their sets, taking their friends with them, and we played to an empty room. I don’t know how much, if any, fundage was generated for SPTV. I do recall some kind of fractiousness, though not who was involved nor what it was about. My nerves were scrambled. Ken and Steve were rock-solid, but my guitar playing was skittery as hell. For years I would not go near either the video or audio recordings of this event — too abrasive in my memory.

 

 

Today, of course, I’m delighted to have all these video documents. How young and energetic, and serious, we were (and how old I sound saying that). I’m all the more grateful for these videos when I think how precious and important video seemed back then — these were the years, after all, when MTV and VH-1 were showing music videos, and video was a must-do for musicians — and how inaccessible. I craved a camcorder for years in the 1980s, despite having no means of editing video. But I never felt I could afford one.

Now, in effect, I have three video cameras, which together cost less than one camcorder would have gone for in 1988. Video is as easy as pushing a button. I shoot scenery from the train, the winter rye waving in the sun in our front yard, the evidence of a Pabst Blue Ribbon price war in Nederland, Colo.

Between technology and experience and some money, so many things that once seemed impossible have drifted into reach. It’s one of the things that has impressed me the most about getting older. Then the question is: What do you do with those things once you have them?

They say that when a door closes, a window opens. But they don’t say what happens when the walls go away.

 

 

1986

Famous music critic on local television wires, 1986!

 


In March 1986, I interviewed Alana MacDonald of the trio Devonsquare for an article about the status and experiences of women in pop music.

The living room at 506 Preble St., South Portland. The music stand holds a Palmer-Hughes accordion instruction book. Digital scan from black & white negative/Hubley Archives.

The living room at 506 Preble St., South Portland. The music stand holds a Palmer-Hughes accordion instruction book. Digital scan from black & white negative/Hubley Archives.

MacDonald, singer and violinist for one of the most popular club acts in the Northeast, was friendly and forthcoming. Toward the end of our meeting I felt encouraged to ask about perhaps submitting a few of my songs to Devonsquare.

MacDonald kindly expressed openness to the idea (although it’s hard to imagine that folk-pop trio doing, say, “Little Cries”).

But I never followed up.

That article today doesn’t read like much (especially to a regular viewer of “Nashville”).

But the interview, over coffee at the legendary Portland bistro Deli One, stands out as symbolic of that time in my life.

In recent years I’ve lost sight of how connected I was back then, how many acquaintances I had made as a writer and musician. The same was true for my then-partner, now my wife, Gretchen Schaefer. As manager of Congress Square Gallery, she encountered a steady stream of art makers and consumers*.

Backstage at the Cumberland County Civic Center in 1985, I give Ricky Scaggs copies of my Sunday Telegram article about him.

Backstage at the Cumberland County Civic Center in 1985, I give Ricky Scaggs copies of my Sunday Telegram article about him.

By no means are we recluses today, but the steady stream of encounters back then seemed part and parcel of our having “arrived” on the Portland scene. We weren’t in with the In Crowd, but we knew it to say “hi” to.

I talked to MacDonald for “Club Beat,” my music column for the Maine Sunday Telegram. My other interviewees for that piece included Cathie Stebbins, a pop-blues singer big on the local circuit, and Chris Horne, a member of the all-female (“all-chick” to Chris) retro ’60s band The Brood — established players all.

And I never sent MacDonald any songs because I understood, even then, that my offer was less about sharing music than making it clear that I was not just someone who wrote about musicians, but was really a musician too. (See proof of my musical qualifications.)

Gretchen's studio at 506 Preble St., South Portland. Digital scan from black & white negative/Hubley Archives.

Gretchen’s studio at 506 Preble St., South Portland. Digital scan from black & white negative/Hubley Archives.

In 1986 it was a shaky claim. My band, the Fashion Jungle, had ground to a halt at the end of January, and for the rest of the year I barely touched a guitar, to say nothing about climbing up on a stage. I wrote no songs. I have no recordings from 1986.

This disconnect from what I profess to care so much about must have bothered me; but I don’t remember it. I suspect I was relieved to be done with the uncertainty of it all. I contemplated putting together a solo act, but couldn’t seem to get any traction. I like playing with other people.

So, typically for me, instead getting back up on the Fashion Jungle horse and trying again, I lurched in a new direction. That fall I bought a cheap used 120-bass piano accordion and some Palmer-Hughes instruction books at Starbird Music. And it was love at first honk.

Gretchen in the garden at 506 Preble St. Hubley Archives.

Gretchen in the garden at 506 Preble St. Hubley Archives.

While I was playing little music, and none presentable (Palmer-Hughes’ “Vegetables on Parade,” anyone?), I was hearing a ton of it, thanks to writing assignments from the Guy Gannett newspapers in Portland, Maine. Those included rock and pop record reviews; concert previews and reviews; and features about topics musical and otherwise.

In 1986, in addition to 18 “Club Beat” columns, I did countless Portland Symphony Orchestra and other classical reviews, and covered in depth the sweepstakes for the selection of the PSO’s new conductor. I also reviewed pop and rock, live and on disc.

I advanced the Maine Festival and New Year’s / Portland — remember them? I wrote food stories, art reviews, a Christmas-shopping guide to new books about rock and pop music, and a feature about the stage costumes worn by classical and heavy metal musicians.

Doug with "Addicted to Show Biz" star Omar Ricardo, aka Frank Omar. Randy Visser photo/SPTV.

Doug with “Addicted to Show Biz” star Omar Ricardo, aka Frank Omar. Randy Visser photo/SPTV.

I talked with Harry Belafonte, Maria Muldaur, George Shearing, the Kronos Quartet, Sharon Isbin and Christopher Parkening, Simple Minds’ lead singer Jim Kerr, magician David Copperfield and a variety of Maine visual artists. My Smith-Corona typewriter got a workout.

At the same time, I was catching shifts on the copy desk at the Portland Press Herald and the Evening Express. PH shifts ran from mid-afternoon till midnight or later, and Express shifts from 5 or 6 a.m. till early afternoon. A few times I’d show up for an Express shift a few hours after finishing a review or copy-desk stint for the Press Herald.

In short, the “creative renaissance” of 1985, with its metaphorical overtones of sweet dawn and blooming posies, had matured into a blurry high-pressure reality of late nights, early mornings, weekend work, writing and editing and gadding about. It was a hard slog, deficient in down time, but deeply educational.

The Swedish Ball Team, seen through the control room window during the cablecast of "Addicted to Show Biz." Randy Visser photo/SPTV.

The Swedish Ball Team, seen through the control room window during the cablecast of “Addicted to Show Biz.” Randy Visser photo/SPTV.

1986 was also a year for domestic synergy. After five years together, Gretchen and I moved in together in March, renting a charming duplex in a charming neighborhood, near South Portland’s Willard Beach, amidst not so charming neighbors.

For the first time, I had an actual office, in a spare bedroom, and Gretchen had a large sunporch for her studio. The reality of hard work did not dampen our creative-renaissance ideal, and living together gave it new energy.

We did carve out spare time, and immediately found ways to fill it up. Among them was the local public-access TV station, headquartered at Southern Maine Vocational-Technical Institute, just down the beach from us. We took a couple of TV production courses and began a relationship with South Portland TV director Randy Visser that would last a couple of years, and result in some actual programming.

Gretchen and I each produced and directed a program for SPTV as our final projects for a course. Gretchen’s was “Art Who,” a look at the commercial art world that reflected her connections through the gallery. Her guests were Roger Richmond, who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Augusta, Maine; Elena Kubler, her colleague at the gallery; and Ellen Schiferl, a professor of art history with whom we had studied at the University of Southern Maine.

"Addicted to Show Biz": Charlie Brown, Mike Wiskey, Sean Potter, Will Jackson, Carla Bryson. Randy Visser photo/SPTV.

“Addicted to Show Biz”: Charlie Brown, Mike Wiskey, Sean Potter, Will Jackson, Carla Bryson. Randy Visser photo/SPTV.

Meanwhile, I had gotten to know the people of Delux Productions, a Maine musical cabaret troupe that made funny, sharply post-modernist takeoffs on showbiz tropes from the second half of the 20th century.

“We’re no less accessible than ‘I Love Lucy,’ ” Maria “Delux” Locke, one of the troupe’s leaders, told me for a “Club Beat” story about “A Big Big Show With a Big Big Band,” their 1986 summer cabaret series in Old Orchard Beach.

The only difference between Ricky Ricardo’s Tropicana and the Delux cabarets, added her colleague Beth Hartman, “is that we have kind of an ’80s sensibility. We’re not just doing nostalgia . . . It’s a parody, and yet it’s kind of straightforward somehow. It’s a paradox, but it works.”

I approached Delux about appearing on SPTV, and the result was “Addicted to Show Biz.” A half-hour live cablecast, it was a variety show showcasing the best of Delux: host Omar Ricardo (real name: Frank Omar), a Ricky Ricardo wannabe; the acrobatic dancers of the Swedish Ball Team; the suave pop stylings of Will Jackson and Carla Bryson, sitting at the Fashion Jungle’s old Farfisa rock organ; Latin dance numbers; garish / vintage costumes created by Theresa Visinaire (who lent me a songbook of Polish songs for the accordion); Hartman singing Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love”; and the jazzy pop of a small combo led by keyboardist extraordinaire Charlie Brown.

"Addicted to Show Biz" goes live. Director/producer Doug Hubley, center, with technical director Gretchen Schaefer, right, and audio engineer Neal Portnoy. Randy Visser photo/SPTV.

“Addicted to Show Biz” goes live. Director / producer Doug Hubley, center, with technical director Gretchen Schaefer, right, and audio engineer Neal Portnoy. Randy Visser photo/SPTV.

That was some intense evening. It was the first and only time I directed a TV show, and the tensions ran high and the camera angles askew. But it came off, distributed over SPTV’s cable feed to — what? 20, 30 people? Didn’t matter. I was ecstatic. I never heard how Delux really felt about it, but we stayed in touch, so they couldn’t have been too put off.

In a year spent offstage and away from songwriting, it was a huge creative consolation. It was part of an interest in moving-image work that we sustained for a few years and that included a Super-8 sound film based on Dickens’ “Christmas Carol.” (Look for that in November.)

Meanwhile, the wheel of fortune continued to turn. “Addicted to Show Biz” aired on Sept. 16. Just a week or so prior, former Fashion Jungle bassist Steve Chapman and Jeri Kane, whom he’d met in Boston, were married on a beautiful weekend day at Steve’s family cabin on Conway Lake, in New Hampshire. Gretchen, Kathren, Ken and I were among the guests.

Soon the Chapmans moved to Portland. And soon after that, the Fashion Jungle was back.

*In fact, at one point it dawned on us that one artsy couple was buddying up to us pretty much because of what we could do for them professionally. Our get-togethers with this pair, one of whom was a chilly landscapist with some name recognition, were marked by differences in outlook that belied any basis for real friendship. Naifs that we were, we got wise only when our jobs changed and we were no longer of use to them.

Fashion Jungle: Knights and Free-lances

Gretchen Schaefer, Dan Knight and Jeff Stanton at Frosty's doughnut shop, Brunswick, July 1985. We were in Brunswick to see a solo concert at Bowdoin College by Richard Thompson, who was wearing a pink suit that clashed quite splendidly with his red hair. Having interviewed him for a Press Herald advance a few weeks earlier, I felt entitled to corner Thompson backstage and force an FJ tape on him. Hubley Archives.

Gretchen Schaefer, Dan Knight and Jeff Stanton at Frosty’s doughnut shop, Brunswick, August 1985. We were in town to see a Maine Festival concert by Richard Thompson, who was wearing a pink suit that clashed quite splendidly with his red hair. Having interviewed him a few weeks earlier, I felt entitled to corner Thompson backstage and force a Fashion Jungle tape on him. Hubley Archives.

See two galleries of 1985 images:

Skip prolix verbiage! Go straight to Body Shop and swinging Fashion Jungle tunes!


Imagine a bloody hot attic apartment on a sunny afternoon, people crammed in under the dormers, champagne punch garnished with edible flowers frozen in ice (oh la), the mood garnished with kudos.

It was a party marking the beginning of my (first) career as a freelance writer and editor. My girlfriend, Gretchen Schaefer, now my wife, graciously hosted the event in her tiny apartment near Willard Beach in South Portland, Maine. As Ray Davies sang, all of my friends were there. It was June 1, 1985.

What a blast. Much of it is a blur but I have a vivid memory of Gretchen, me and Jeff Stanton, our good friend then and now, standing at water’s edge at Willard after the others had left, swaying happily in an alcoholic breeze as the waves caressed the sand and the sun sank low.

‘Creative renaissance’

That moment seems to symbolize that time in life for Gretchen and me. There are several half-baked concepts that my mind can’t shake off, and one of them is the “creative renaissance”: a rare and miraculous flowering of creative energy. The mid- to late 1980s was such a time for us. After four years together, for us 1985 was the year when our interests and ambitions seemed to begin to bear fruit.

Gretchen with two of her paintings in 1986. Hubley Archives.

Gretchen with two of her paintings in 1986. Hubley Archives.

For two years I had worked full time in the library at the Guy Gannett newspapers in Portland, but at the same time I was writing arts and entertainment stories for those papers on the side. That work was much more fulfilling — and the pace was picking up, to the extent that it was a challenge to work writing assignments in around the library job.

When Gannett put out a call for occasional copy editors, work that appealed to me and paid well, I saw my ticket out of the library and its endless routine of clipping, filing, retrieving and refiling news stories. Between copy desk shifts and writing, I figured I could make a decent living doing work I liked.

Doug at Geno's in 1985. Jeff Stanton photo.

Doug at Geno’s in 1985. Jeff Stanton photo.

For a few years, that’s how it worked out. But the real benefit was over the long haul, as the journalistic and editorial experience I gained in the second half of the 1980s continues to stand me in good stead even now.

Gretchen, meanwhile, was painting and making prints as intensively as she could, given the constraints of her job at a high-end photo processor and of that cramped attic apartment.

And in fact, in a June when auspicious events seemed to fall into place like tumblers in a combination lock, she became manager of an art gallery on Congress Street. If this was not quite fulfillment for an artist, it was motion in the right direction and valuable exposure to the business of art.

So in this Year of the Creative Renaissance, our lives were largely about creative work: making our own, contemplating others’, talking about it all. On June 8, over bourbon and Coke, Gretchen and I hatched the idea of the Visible Gallery: a gallery / open studio / performance room where, of course, fulfillment would reside with us and money would come in with the tide. We called it the Visible Gallery because of the open-studio idea: like the anatomical toys of the 1960s, all the guts would be on display.

“I think we’re serious about it,” I wrote in my journal. And so we were, as events a couple months later would demonstrate. (Read a full journal entry.)

Knight comes in

The cherry on this sundae of bohemian fantasy-made-real, for me at least, was that my band, the Fashion Jungle, was back in business after a winter and spring dedicated to declaring it over and done with. (Read more about the rise and fall of the 1983-84 FJ.)

Bassist Dan Knight during a 1985 Fashion Jungle performance at Geno's, Brown Street, Portland. Jeff Stanton photo.

Bassist Dan Knight during a 1985 Fashion Jungle performance at Geno’s, Brown Street, Portland. Jeff Stanton photo.

We all took a turn calling it quits, but the decisive blow came when drummer Ken Reynolds was hired full-time at the post office, working six evenings a week. Ken and I had played together for eight years, and the propect of breaking in a new drummer seemed insurmountable.

But in March 1985, just a month after that development, Ken switched from second to third shift, and was once again able (and willing) to rehearse.

An ad in Sweet Potato produced Dan Knight, a young University of Southern Maine student who was friendly, earnest and a good player conversant with an impressive variety of music. We took him on in early July — and promptly accepted a July 27 booking, back at Geno’s.

Hmmm, I wonder where this was taken . . . Ken Reynolds during a 1985 Fashion Jungle performance at Geno's, Brown Street, Portland. Jeff Stanton photo.

Hmmm, I wonder where this was taken . . . Ken Reynolds during a 1985 Fashion Jungle performance at Geno’s, Brown Street, Portland. Jeff Stanton photo.

Dan absorbed the FJ material quickly, no mean feat considering its complexity. Like that of Steve Chapman, his predecessor, Dan’s playing was fluent, but it was much more reflective of the bass vernacular. Steve’s playing was big, romantic and in a style unto itself. In Dan, you could hear decades of roots music and pop radio, organized with witty energy into a burbling, driving stream.

It’s a question how much of Dan’s style was driven by his equipment. It’s possible that he needed to play a lot of notes because, as a student, he couldn’t afford the gear to get a more sustaining sound. He used a succession of inexpensive basses, including my Hagstrom, a flatulent device with whimsical intonation; and I don’t think he ever got a bass amp powerful enough to stand up to the FJ decibel level.

Our run with Dan was only six months, and I regret it wasn’t longer, because we made a start at a new Fashion Jungle sound — raw, driving, and more like rock than the previous band’s “New Wave” — that was promising. (Hear the recordings below.)

A poster by Gretchen Schaefer depicts the FJ rising from the ashes for a Geno's gig.

A poster by Gretchen Schaefer depicts the FJ rising from the ashes for a Geno’s gig.

We played a bunch of times, including three dates at Geno’s and the wedding of Ken’s friend Doug Czerwonka, held at the Lost Valley ski resort in Auburn in October. We learned a bunch of totally unlikely songs for that job, from “My Girl” to “Get Off My Cloud” to “Una Paloma Blanca” to “Come Fly With Me” (awful) to Myron Floren’s “Fingertip Polka” — the start of a pesky polka obsession for me. Creative Renaissance!

Boozeness meetings

As hard as we were pursuing our creative pursuits, Gretchen and I were also putting more energy into our social lives, thanks to work schedules that accommodated late nights. Somewhere along the way we launched a series of Monday-night “boozeness meetings” — gatherings at Three-Dollar Dewey’s, in the original Fore Street location in Portland.

The idea of the boozeness meetings was that Monday night was the time and Dewey’s was the place, and whoever felt like going would go, in the hopes that someone else would go too. For several months, that’s the way it happened: In addition to G. and I, we could often expect to see Jeff, Ken, former FJ keyboardist Kathren Torraca, our friend Alden Bodwell, and friends of the various friends. We’d hang at Dewey’s, maybe play cards, and wind up with a late visit to the Woodford’s Café for an English mufffin.

A Monday Night Boozeness meeting at Three Dollar Dewey's, 1985. From left, Ken Reynolds, Chris Bruni, two unknown subjects, Kathren Torraca.

A Monday Night Boozeness meeting at Three Dollar Dewey’s, 1985. From left, Ken Reynolds, Chris Bruni, two unknown subjects, Kathren Torraca.

At the same time, our connection with our friends was strengthened by the fact that we got our own playhouse. Gretchen and I had pursued the Visible Gallery idea, and placed a “space wanted” ad in which I blathered on in wry / exalted terms about what we hoped to achieve. This amused a Mrs. Orlando (husband: Tony) who was willing to rent us half of a one-story industrial duplex at 178 Washington Ave.

It was perfect, a large open space accompanied by a bathroom and a small office. Good for painting, for rehearsals, for parties. The best part was the truck door: For a gig, Alden could drive his van right into the rehearsal space for loading and unloading.

I can’t recall, or don’t want to, how much arm-twisting we engaged in, but in August 1985 we rented the Washington Avenue space as a collective: the Fashion Jungle with Jeff and Gretchen. The last time I played music in my parents’ cellar was Aug. 28, 1985 — my diary notes that my mother seemed sad that rehearsals at 103 Richland St. were over, although I’m sure Dad was happy to lose the racket.

If the 1985 Fashion Jungle didn't stay together long enough for the music to really coalesce, we did develop a strong solidarity as friends, thanks to renting the Body Shop -- the warehouse space on Washington Avenue that was our clubhouse for five months. From left: FJ bassist Dan Knight, drummer Ken Reynolds, roadie-photographer Jeff Stanton, roadie-driver Alden Bodwell, roadie-artist Gretchen Schaefer, guitarist-commando Doug Hubley. Photo by Minolta self-timer/Hubley Archives.

Last night at the Body Shop — the warehouse space on Washington Avenue that was our clubhouse for five months. From left: FJ bassist Dan Knight, drummer Ken Reynolds, roadie-photographer Jeff Stanton, roadie-driver Alden Bodwell, roadie-artist Gretchen Schaefer, guitarist-commando Doug Hubley. Photo by Minolta self-timer/Hubley Archives.

 

We moved in at the beginning of September. We had good times at the Body Shop, as we came to call it in honor of a previous tenant. Naturally, it became a social club as much as anything. In fact, over the course of the few gigs that the FJ played while we were based there, I at least perceived a real solidarity amongst the six of us who were at Washington Avenue, and at the gigs, the most: Alden, Dan, Doug, Gretchen, Jeff and Ken.

Romanticizing the writer's life, 1985. I got over it. Hubley Archives.

Romanticizing the writer’s life, 1985. I got over it. Hubley Archives.

But problems soon became obvious with the Body Shop (we weren’t there long enough to bring the Visible Gallery to life). The biggest was that we simply couldn’t afford it. And despite our high ambitions, not everyone had a real use for the space. For Gretchen, who didn’t have a car, simply getting there on her own from South Portland involved two bus trips and a prohibitive amount of time.

By November, the money crunch was exigent (the rent party was fun, but didn’t help the situation much). By December, Ken had given notice, muttering about going to California to work for the Defense Logistics Agency. Through January, we tried to record all of our material, not succeeding. On Jan. 27, 1986, at Geno’s, we played what was billed as the Fashion Jungle’s last gig.

Of course, it wasn’t. But it was the last time I set foot on a stage in 1986.


Gretchen Schaefer's poster for what we thought was the FJ's last performance. Hubley Archives.

Gretchen Schaefer’s poster for what we thought was the FJ’s last performance. Hubley Archives.

Hear studio recordings by the 1985 Fashion Jungle: We spent our last month at the Body Shop attempting to record our repertoire for posterity. It had been a problematic space for recording because of a commercial radio signal that leaked onto the tape, but somehow we dodged that bullet for these sessions. Dan Knight, bass and vocal (“Blood From a Stone”). Ken Reynolds, drums. Doug Hubley, guitar and vocals. Recorded at the Body Shop on the Sony TC-540.

  • Phony English Accent (Hubley) Bitchy and self-righteous enough that I regret it now (but not enough to withhold it), this standard from the original Fashion Jungle was my response to the posturing that had infected American punk and New Wave by the early 1980s. Hear an earlier version.
  • Why This Passion (Hubley) The original version of this song written for the Fashion Jungle in 1983 was a rococo creation that could barely stand up under the weight of its arrangement. For the 1985 FJ, I streamlined and supercharged the setting, to better effect.
  • Corner Night (Hubley) Unintelligible to anyone who wasn’t close to the 1970s-’80s social scene around Patty Ann’s Superette, in South Portland, these lyrics were written in 1981 about two concerts given by three bands with ties to that scene — the Foreign Students and the Pathetix, in addition to the FJ. I contrived the Costello-esque melody in 1985 for the reborn FJ. Hear an earlier version.
  • Coke Street (Hubley) In the 1980s, Portland’s Old Port Exchange was the go-go ’80s writ large and embellished with seagulls. This country song with its odd lopsided rhythm was one of my rare attempts at social commentary. The lyrics absolutely do not hold up (“Love letters on an Apple II”?), but the music is cool. Hear an earlier version.
  • Blood From a Stone (Knight) This Byrdsy number was bassist Dan Knight’s contribution to the Fashion Jungle catalog.

“Phony English Accent,” “Why This Passion,” “Corner Night” and “Coke Street” all copyright © 2010 by Douglas L. Hubley. “Blood From a Stone” copyright © 1985 by Daniel B. Knight. All rights reserved.

Text copyright © 2013 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.

Gretchen Schaefer lugs a box out of the Body Shop during the 1986 retreat. Hubley Archives.

Gretchen Schaefer lugs a box out of the Body Shop during the 1986 retreat. Hubley Archives.

Interlude: 10 Million Papers

Track listings for two reel-to-reel recordings by the Curley Howard Band in my Tape Catalogue. The comment indicated by the arrow sums up this entire post; click to embiggen.


Skip philosophizing! Go directly to music!

See a mind-bending collection of items from the Hubley Archives. And it’s only the tip of the iceberg!


A break from the band chronology, with an overdose of materials from the archives:

This Kodak Instamatic (not Instagram, Instamatic!) image from winter 1971 shows three of the four members of my first performing band, Truck Farm, which came together later that year. Clockwise from left: Tom Hansen, drummer; John Rolfe, guitarist; DH, dolled up for who knows what; and our friends Patty Stanton and Scott Stanton. Hubley Family photograph.

When you see people close to you losing their memories, and your own is less than rock-solid, it may cause you to think seriously about what you remember. And what it means: the role memories play in your thinking and in your understanding of your life. The ways you call memories up, examine them and try to hold onto them. The fact that they are so plastic, and ultimately fugitive.

A South Portland police officer pays a visit to an early Truck Farm rehearsal en plein air at Craig Johnson’s house. I still hear him saying, “Can you tone it down a little bit, boys?” I’m at right and Tom Hansen at left in this image by an unknown photographer from spring or summer 1971. Hubley Archives.

Are we merely the sum of our memories? Do they accrete onto the bare armature of our personalities like layers of clay? Can you do anything with your conscious mind that isn’t somehow connected with memory?

Are memories a form of currency in the social marketplace — that is, if you remember more, are you a more interesting person? Do you have a mental wallet or portfolio of stories about yourself that you whip out at appropriate moments in a gathering? (I am generally barren of amusing stories suitable for social occasions, although there is the one about the dress shop in Vienna.)

How is it you can not see somebody for two years, and then when you meet again, you pick up the conversation like it was just yesterday?

Why are memories of life experiences — the stories that seem to constitute our lives — so important to some people, like me, and not others?


See a gallery of Truck Farm Images. Text continues after gallery!


See the Archives page, offering way too much information.

Dating myself

I had a great memory, with a particular facility for dates, into my 40s. I had a reputation for my ability to recall the dates when things happened, even fairly unimportant things. Example: On Oct. 24, 1970, my mother took Tom Hansen and me to see Poco at the University of Maine Portland-Gorham.

My sticky memory was one of the primary colors of my sense of self. Now it’s fading, not drastically, but noticeably. As with the other things that age has diminished, I accept it, because what else can you do? But it dulls my self-esteem and leaves a numb spot in my mood, like the flat place on your gums where a tooth used to be.

Self-portrait with Sony TC-540, 1982.

At worst, it worries me that it’s the start of some kind of serious deterioration. But I try not to go there too often.

The documents in the case

I’ve always associated memories with documentation. For me, a piece of paper or a recording is like a ticket to something I experienced. It’s hard to say which came first, this belief or my paper-saving habit, but I’ve amassed a lot — lyric sheets, newspaper clippings and night club listings, set lists, photographs, performance and rehearsal recordings, letters, journal entries (way too few of those), etc. And that’s just the stuff related to music.

One of the most robust sources for these strolls down Memory Lane is the “Tape Catalogue,” my extremely annotated index of most of the analog audio tapes that I own, about 130 reel-to-reel tapes and god knows how many cassettes. These are life experiences of a especially vivid kind that are embedded in physical objects, and for the most part, the objects are unique. You can copy an analog recording, but always with a loss of quality, vs. a digital recording, which is endlessly replicable with no loss of quality (except the upfront loss of quality inherent to digital recording).

Some of the tapes.

That replicability is one reason digital audio media are disorienting to a product, like me, of the analog age. A slightly different reason has to do with physicality. Digital recordings ultimately exist as physical media, of course — on a server somewhere — but you don’t need to have them in your house to access them, and you don’t have to own them to access them.

How unsettling. I am all about owning things and having them in my house. Can you really get anything from a Cloud besides vapor, rain or snow? But ultimately all our endeavors, and their physical manifestations, will evaporate anyway, no?

Tickets, please

I’ve always believed that by revisiting the document, the experience will somehow spring back to life fully formed in my mind.

In the nine months I’ve been writing these posts, though, the mnemonic payoff from all the paperwork hasn’t been quite so dramatic. It has been nice to rediscover the facts in the documents, but the big payoff — the once forgotten, now recalled scene in the Movie of Doug — has rarely been forthcoming.

eo

A page for a chronology of my bands that I drew up in preparation for a never-completed 1985 slideshow about the rise and fall of the Fashion Jungle. Note the March 1983 entry. Hubley Archives.

So documentation isn’t the key to a lockbox full of precious memories. There’s not always even an exact correspondence between one paper item and one recollection. The best I can hope for is random and fragmentary recovery of memories from the abyss.

For instance, this autumn I was surprised to be reminded that the Chapman-Torraca edition of the Fashion Jungle stayed together (to the extent we could, with members living in Boston) until March 1985. This intelligence came from a handwritten band chronology that I started back in the 1980s, when I was really manic about documentation, and that I just unearthed.

From a hasty logbook of Fashion Jungle operations that I kept in 1983, I was able to disabuse myself of the erroneous belief that Kathren Torraca’s FJ debut was at a certain club on a certain date and relearn that it was at a different club, good old Kayo’s, on an earlier date. The big takeaway there was not so much the facts of her debut, but the realization that I’d remembered them wrong all these years, just because I had a tape of one gig, her second with the FJ, and not of her first.

The documents give and the documents take away.


See the logbook and other Fashion Jungle images. After visiting the second gallery installment, use the back arrow to assure the optimum Notes From a Basement experience. Text continues after gallery!


See the Archives page, offering way too much information.

The rehearsal lyric sheet for “Shortwave Radio,” typed on my blue Smith-Corona portable. The yellow splotches on the paper are probably sweat or Freixenet sparkling wine, which I drank constantly during the golden summer of 1981.

Incidentals

Song lyric sheets are quite evocative. They, more than any other category of the rubbish I hoard, often return me to the day. As I’ve previously written in this space, one of the clearer memories I have from the original Fashion Jungle days in 1981 is the writing of “Shortwave Radio” — sitting at the red table in my sister’s house on Cottage Road, drinking a gin gimlet, “Bob Newhart” rerun on TV with the sound off, etc. My process is to scribble down a bunch of crap until it coalesces into a song, and when it seems solid enough to start on the melody, I’ll type a clean copy. But the “Shortwave Radio” lyrics here give me a change to talk about secondary, but still alluring, aspect of documentation: incidentals.

Nicholson Baker, an unusually focused writer whom I interviewed in 2000 following his purchase of the British Library’s hard-copy newspaper archives, first opened my eyes to the historical power of incidentals. He wrote (in The New Yorker, I think) about the computer databases replacing physical card catalogs in libraries. He didn’t like it; and one reason was that librarians tended to mark up catalog cards, and their markings constituted an important source of information that would be lost with computerization.

That made perfect sense to me. Nothing happens in isolation, and the bits of stray information that come along with what you really intended to save can shed light on the context in which the primary event took place.

The backside of the “Shortwave Radio” lyrics — originally a WCSH-TV program log.

In this spirit, I’m presenting not only my original master copy of the “Shortwave” lyrics, but the backside of the paper I typed them on. It was originally the front: My father, Ben, worked in advertising sales at WCSH-TV, and being obsessively thrifty, would bring home discarded program logs (showing information about commercials) for use as scrap paper.

Ben and Hattie still have in their den the pale green desk that was the repository of writing materials at 103 Richland St., and there’s probably still a pile of these log sheets in with the scrap paper in that desk. (Although the last time I went looking there for scrap paper, I latched onto a hunk of continuous computer-printer paper, the kind with the detachable sprocket holes, and it just kept coming, sheet after sheet. That was two days ago.)

So, after you read the lyrics to “Shortwave Radio” and then go to my Nimbit Store to buy a copy (and then I would request that you burn it onto a CD and then copy it to an audiocassette, all while thinking of me), take a look at the entries on the program log. When was the last time you saw a TV ad for Canada Dry mixers or Quaker State motor oil? And note the political spots at the bottom of the sheet.


See more original Fashion Jungle images. Text continues after gallery!


See the Archives page, offering way too much information.

This is it

It strains me to have to accept that my legendary memory ain’t what it used to be. Time is hollowing out the past as it exists in my mind. It shakes me up to have to acknowledge this.

Writing a play, or playing at writing, complete with tequila sunrise, in 1975. Hubley Family photo.

But acknowledge it I must. I know people much older than me who share my belief (or more likely gave it to me) in the evocative power of documentation, and I’ve seen how the memories continue to evaporate while the goddamned paperwork just keeps piling up like the snowdrifts in the pre-climate-change winters that we don’t have anymore. Paper covers rock, but it doesn’t stand a chance against time. And neither do the rocks.

The saddest or silliest thing about all this musing about documents and memories, about the paper trail that leads to an outline of a version of a possible life, out of all the possible lives, is that for all these years I have entertained the notion that all these documents would someday be of historical interest — that I should keep them because some institution would someday want them for the sake of researchers who would want to know more about me. This on the basis of a small writing career largely given over to the exercise of marketing communications; and a tiny musical career.

It embarrasses me to confess this, but I do so in the hope that it may (a) be of some kind of interest — delusions being both entertaining and informative — and (b), more selfishly, that it might help me get over the idea.

I’ve come to realize that if anyone’s going to write about me, it’s probably going to be me. And I’m already doing it. And thank you for continuing to read it.


As long as we’re rummaging around in the archives, here are four more recordings for your pleasure and bemusement.

  • Nothing Can Change the Way I Feel (Hubley) A song written in 1978 as an exercise in self-directed propaganda. Even then I knew the relationship was a mistake. The words are clunky — does metallurgy really have a place in tender romantic lyrics? — but the melody is nice. (Gene Clark much?)
  • What You Wanted (Hubley) Three-quarters of the Fashion Jungle perform this sort-of love song in the Hubleys’ basement in September 1983. DH, guitar and vocal; Steve Chapman, bass; Kathren Torraca, keyboards. Drummer Ken Reynolds was on the disabled list with a thumb broken playing ball, so the percussion is electronic. This was from a recording session dedicated to preserving our material for a new keyboardist, because Kathren was threatening to quit. (She didn’t.)
  • Why This Passion (Hubley) An early version of a romantic song debuted by the FJ in 1984. In later years, this cumbersome setting was discarded for a more straightforward and rocking arrangement. Recorded at Geno’s, Oct. 12, 1984.
  • Corner Night (Demo 1985) (Hubley)  Elvis Costello much? Ray Davies much? Self-referential much? I wax reminiscent about the early days of the Fashion Jungle in this song written and demoed in 1985 for the Dan Knight edition of the FJ.

These four songs copyright © 2010 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.

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


See images from the times before and between bands.


See the Archives page, offering way too much information.

 

 

Fashion Jungle: End of the Affair

The Fashion Jungle on the cover of the Rolling Stone — er, Sweet Potato. Click to enlarge. Photo: Rhonda Farnham Photography.

No text! Go straight to music!


“Any [A&R man] worth his salt would find in Fashion Jungle all the elements of a superstar-group-to-be: Kathren, the fashion plate gal on keys; Doug, the frenetic guitarist who looks like he’s escaped from a biology lab; Steve, the tall, introverted bassist; and Ken, the band’s anchor behind the drumkit.”

― Laura Butterworth, “Is There a Market for Fashion Jungle?”, Sweet Potato Magazine, Oct. 24–Nov. 7, 1984

“It’s deja vu all over again.”

― Yogi Berra, master of quotable quotes

I never quite understood Laura’s remark about me and the biology lab.

Did I look like a scientist, or a science project? And that wasn’t my only beef with her Sweet Potato cover story about the Fashion Jungle.

The story’s opening is confusing, as she brings the reader from an FJ performance at Geno’s in the first paragraph to an FJ rehearsal in my parents’ basement, in the second, without ever announcing the shift in setting. Was Baked Fresh Daily playing at my parents’ house? I don’t think so! And things happened in the restrooms at Geno’s location on Brown Street that never happened in my parents’ bathroom.

Ken Reynolds, “the band’s anchor behind the drumkit,” with the Fashion Jungle at the Maine Festival, August 1984. Click to enlarge. Image from Sweet Potato Magazine, courtesy of Rhonda Farnham Photography.

Butterworth also credits me with the lyrics to “Entertainer,” when in fact it was drummer Ken Reynolds who did the field research at the Stardust, a now-departed burlesque club on Congress Street, and then penned the musical query about a stripper’s state of mind.

Now a real estate agent and small-plane pilot who occasionally combines those skills, Butterworth was an impressionistic writer whose journalistic interests lay more in the fashion industry than in music. But the biggest problem with her article ― which, in truth, was very sympathetic to the band (and highly accurate when she credited us with “one of the finest arrays of original material that Maine has to offer”) ― was its timing.

The FJ she portrayed was a band unhappy about its lack of commercial prospects, but still solid, forward-looking and fighting the good fight. That was the impression she got in August 1984, when she interviewed us and attended the rehearsal in South Portland. But needs and interests inimical to the band’s solidarity were in play even then. And by the time her article hit the newsstands, in late October 1984, nearly 28 years ago, the Steve Chapman–Kathren Torraca FJ was on the skids.

I must say, I’ve given a lot of thought to this particular post. It could easily become the mirror image of my chapter about the breakup of the original Fashion Jungle, which anticipated the Chapman-Torraca demise by three years, to the very month. The particulars were different, but not the underlying forces: the pressure to find meaningful or at least lucrative day jobs; the sense that Portland wasn’t the place to find them; and the youth-driven imperative to get the hell out of here (an imperative that I’ve felt, but only long past the end of youth and way too late to do much about it).

Escapee from a biology lab? How’s that again? Click to enlarge. Image from Sweet Potato Magazine, courtesy of Rhonda Farnham Photography.

Also the same, only elevated to a higher order of outrage because the band was sounding so good — and because, goddamn it, we’d been through this once already before — was my response: Why, oh why, did the band have to come apart just as things were starting to happen? I was furious then. I can still feel it. In my selfish view, it was just such a waste. It was too soon for it to be over.

I mean, look at it: We could play at Geno’s as often as we liked; in August, we performed at the prestigious Maine Festival, in Brunswick*; we had a recording on the market; we were getting media recognition from not only the local music paper, but the region’s two hip-and-cool radio stations, WBLM-FM and WMPG-FM. Surely there was more and better ahead.

And those were just the trappings of success. Most important, as the Geno’s recordings that accompany this post demonstrate, we were simply playing great — though it’s also true that for all of 1984, I was the only active songwriter in the band, and I was anything but prolific.

When Steve announced, at a late-summer party at Ken’s apartment, that he was moving to Boston to study computer science, I was upset but not surprised. The handwriting had been on the wall. The charms of cooking soup at a pub-grub eatery in Portland are not infinite. And Steve was in love with a woman from Boston.

Keyboardist Kathren Torraca, at left, and bassist Steve Chapman with the Fashion Jungle at the Maine Festival, August 1984. Click to enlarge. Image from Sweet Potato Magazine, courtesy of Rhonda Farnham Photography.

Kathren was also restless, sick of her job, ready for higher education and a change of scene; we had been accepted at the Maine Festival while she was off on a European getaway, an absence that had made me wonder if we’d be able to do the festival at all.

And Ken was out of school and working part-time at the post office ― evenings. So much for the rehearsal schedule. And the switch to night work strained him physically and emotionally.

So in the autumn of 1984, there we were on the cover of Portland’s only music newspaper, smiling brightly, ready for fame if only it would come knocking. And there we were, not on newsprint but in reality, reduced to once-a-week rehearsals at Ben and Hattie’s, no new material coming in (we even tried Petula Clark’s “Downtown”; I still have Kathren’s “hits of the ‘60s” songbook), the old stuff getting more and more leaden, everyone looking in different directions.

Jim Sullivan rejoined the band, playing mostly sax and commuting from Boston with Steve. Steve switched to a fretless bass. Each of those developments came with a learning curve that, by that point, just seemed insurmountable, though it was nice to work with Jim again. The four-piece band played Geno’s on Oct. 12 in a performance that I’ve spent 28 years thinking was our last; hear recordings from that gig at the links below.

And just yesterday I rediscovered in my notes that the five-piece band had a Geno’s date on Dec. 28. I have no recollection of it, to say nothing of a recording.

And that was that, really. Through the first five months of 1985 we continued to get together while taking turns declaring the end of the FJ: me because I was tired of the uncertainty, Kathren because she wanted to try different types of music, Steve because it was too difficult making it work from Boston — and he and Jim had gotten into a band down there, anyway; and Ken because the P.O. had hired him full time, evenings. But the particulars don’t matter. Endings declare themselves.


The Fashion Jungle at Geno’s, 1984. From left: bassist Steve Chapman, keyboardist Kathren Torraca, drummer Ken Reynolds, guitarist Doug Hubley. Photograph by Jeff Stanton.

Geno’s, Portland’s answer to the punk dive bar that every self-respecting city must have, is looking at its 30th anniversary in 2013, and merits its own post in this series. For now, though, all I can offer is this selection of seven songs from a performance, late in the life of the 1983-84 Fashion Jungle, recorded at Geno’s original location on Oct. 12, 1984. Rather distorted, hence the bargain-basement price point on the Nimbit store. Recorded with two mics on a two-channel consumer-grade cassette deck ― it’s analog tape, kids!

  • Pleasures of the Flesh (Reynolds-Hubley) Ken sings his lyric about a “friends with benefits” arrangement that ultimately rings hollow. Hot stuff, especially in the solos.
  • Old Masters (Chapman) Steve’s commentary about the relationship between technology, culture and fine arts was the first song with lyrics that he contributed to the FJ.
  • Coke Street (Hubley) In the 1980s, Portland’s Old Port Exchange was the go-go ’80s writ large and ornamented with seagulls. This country song with its odd lopsided rhythm was one of my rare attempts at social commentary, and one of my two compositions from 1984.
  • Nothing to Say (Hubley) Art imitates life for five minutes. Compare with the Six Songs version. The guitar is the Rickenbacker 12-string.
  • End of the Affair (Hubley) Always a passionate number, this was particularly poignant for me during this show, which I figured was pretty much the end of the FJ.
  • Keep on Smiling (Hubley) A little too impassioned, maybe!
  • Final Words (Chapman) An excellent performance of an excellent song. The tape runs out just as we segue into Steve’s equally fine “Curious Attraction.”

“Pleasures of the Flesh” copyright © 1984 by Kenneth W. Reynolds and Douglas L. Hubley. “Old Masters” copyright © 1982 by Steven Chapman.  “Coke Street” © 2012 by Douglas L. Hubley. “End of the Affair” and “Nothing to Say” copyright © 1984 by Douglas L. Hubley. “Keep on Smiling” © 2010 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.

*I hope someday to present on this site Jeff Stanton’s film of that technically troubled but musically compelling performance.

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

Six Songs: Fashion Jungle in Studio, Part II

“Six Songs” cassettes ready for distribution. Courtesy of Schaefer Studio.

“It’s almost uncanny how some wishes get answered. Just last issue I suggested that the Fashion Jungle should get some of their songs captured in the studio, and next thing you know I’m handed a six-song tape. . . . [The FJ makes] not just rock and roll; it’s rock and roll with a little more. These are the best ‘new wave’ [sic] songsters in the state.

“Two criticisms, though. Sound quality is murky for a product for sale. And these guys still don’t know how to market themselves.” — Seth Berner, “More Sweets From the Street,” Sweet Potato magazine, Aug. 15-29, 1984

After 28 years, hear the Fashion Jungle’s sole commercial recording with brand-new clarity and impact.


Where other bands go on the road for weeks and months, jammed into a van, breathing each other’s sweat and booze fumes, couch surfing and accumulating laundry like it was road miles, the Fashion Jungle spent just a couple of nights together away from home.

Steve Chapman at the Outlook during the “Six Songs” sessions, January 1984. Steve’s songwriting hit a new excellence on this project. Digital scan from black & white negative/Hubley Archives.

But, like the endless touring upon which most bands build a career, the result was a focus for our musical aspirations: a six-song cassette that would, we hoped, at best help us break out of the Portland scene and, at worst, earn us a few bucks.

Gee, whatever happened to those few bucks?

In the early winter of 1984, we holed up at a studio in Bethel, Maine, for our third stab at recording. The Outlook was run by Ted and Connie St. Pierre, a friendly couple who not only recorded musicians but put them up in a big old white-painted farmstead a few miles outside of town.

The former living room was the studio, and the control room was in an adjacent parlor or dining room. As you would expect, it was spacious, drafty and just what the doctor ordered for atmosphere.

I wish I remembered more about the actual sessions, because, I really must say, the recordings indicate that we played great. But it could have been Sergeant Pepper or the 1927 RCA sessions in Bristol, Tenn., and nevertheless what my memory would wrap in tissue and store in the vault of precious moments would still mostly involve . . . food.

Steve, Ken and Doug listen to a playback. Gretchen Schaefer photo.

Steve, Ken and Doug listen to a playback. Gretchen Schaefer photo.

For instance. Gretchen and I arrived at the Outlook first, late on a Friday morning, my sainted VW Squareback loaded to the roof with gear. We loaded in and then, priorities being what they are, drove back to town for lunch, enjoying a fine meal in what I recall was a greenhouse-like area in a welcoming restaurant. We were happy with our meal and also about being together at the start of this musical adventure, which seemed the furthest yet I was venturing toward the “real world” of professional music.

The glow was dimmed a little upon our return, as we found the other members of the band — bassist Steve Chapman, drummer Ken Reynolds and keyboardist Kathren Torraca — waiting for us impatiently. But no regrets — because that was our last good meal for two days.

Kathren, at left, and Ken relax over cards during the January 1984 recording weekend at the Outlook. Digital scan from black & white negative/Hubley Archives.

In the arrangement with the studio, meals were included. And what meals! The St. Pierres didn’t eat meat, but neither were they vegetarians, because they apparently didn’t eat fruits or vegetables, either. “Mostly starchy white food was presented,” Ken recalls.

“I remember you and Gretchen going out to search for fruit,” specifically a bag of apples, “to augment the constant carbohydrate barrage provided by our hosts.” By the evening of Saturday, our one full day at the Outlook, we were desperate to eat something that wasn’t white paste.

As I recall, we laid down tracks during the day Friday and Saturday, and did overdubs into the evening Saturday — I still have a mental picture of Steve on a sofa putting the acoustic guitar onto “Final Words.” My other stray memories include recording the vocals for “Peacetime Hero,” and feeling very excited about the creepiness of them; asking Kathren to put the broken piano into “Nothing to Say”; and trying to get a decent guitar solo for that same song. Once I did, it ended up being the solo forever after.


See galleries from the Outlook sessions. Text continues below.



I’m guessing we stayed up late both nights to decompress and experience this unusual communal time. Aided by the images presented with this post (which I shot but never printed), I do remember a bit about the evenings. Kathren had a Walkman (the first I had heard of such a thing), and spent a lot of time absorbed in that. She and Ken played some cards on one of the big old beds in the farmhouse. Gretchen and I had brought my Trav-L-Bar and we put that to good use.

Ted St. Pierre, owner-engineer of the Outlook, at the desk. Digital scan from black & white negative/Hubley Archives.

We returned to Bethel to mix the tracks a few weeks after the recording sessions. As Ken recalls, engineer Ted St. Pierre “took a hands-off approach to recording, and I guess the reason was he thought we knew our music better than he did. So he left us to our own creative devices.I don’t remember him offering too many suggestions.”

Ted, a metal and hard-rock guy, would have mixed if we’d asked, I think, but he also encouraged us to do it ourselves. I was gaga for the idea, and I boldly led the way as we took our excellent tracks and submerged them in a sonic murk that severely weakened Six Songs and, I suspect, everyone’s excitement about it. (The recordings here, remastered decades later, are extremely listenable.)

And yet we never asked Ted to remix it or have us back to fix it; whether because of money, of which none of us had any to spare, or what, I don’t know. We had the idea of packaging the cassettes in a woodcut print, which Gretchen designed and printed by hand for the 50 or so copies we ordered. I used my trusty Smith Corona portable typewriter to make liner notes that we stuck on the cassette cases themselves.

I still remember Gretchen and I, and maybe other members of the FJ, spending evenings in her attic apartment in South Portland wrapping copies of Six Songs. We sealed each package with a sticky red dot that Gretchen numbered for each print. I have a piece of cardboard, part of the box the tapes came in, that lists where each copy of the tape went.

Fashion Jungle roadie and staff artist Gretchen Schaefer relaxing at the Outlook. Digital scan from black & white negative/Hubley Archives.

We sold a few copies retail, through the Record Exchange at the foot of Exchange Street and through a TV shop at Westgate that also sold music. And I gave quite a few away — to friends of the band and to visiting famous musicians, such as Richard Thompson and the McGarrigle Sisters, with whom I came in contact through my growing career as a music writer for the Guy Gannett newspapers. I had new copies still in the original box into the 1990s.

Mixing and packaging aside, I’m glad I don’t remember much about the actual recording process, because I think that means the sessions went well. In search of more information about our playing music together, though, I looked at my journal from 1984 this morning (Sept. 23, 2012). I’m kind of sorry I did.

There was nothing about the Bethel weekend, but there was ample evidence of my self-absorption and immaturity — and, more germane to this article, evidence of the bad timing and conflicting goals, primarily personal, that ultimately fractured the Chapman-Torraca lineup of the FJ. Ken was facing graduation from the University of Southern Maine in a few months, had already started working at the post office as a temp (which severely restricted his availability for rehearsal) and was worried about a career.

A detail of the woodcut print that Gretchen made for the “Six Songs” package. Courtesy of Schaefer Studio.

Steve was bored with making soup at a Portland restaurant and considering an education in computer work, which increasingly took him to Boston. And Kathren, still in her late teens, was restless. At worst, she considered quitting the FJ altogether; at best, she talked about taking a break and visiting Europe. Which, as it happened, she did.

These eddies and currents gained intensity as the year wore on. Things kept happening, from a cyst that sidelined me for a few weeks to Kathren’s Grand Tour to a rehearsal schedule that became increasingly erratic and non-productive. The songwriting pretty much stopped. But nevertheless, Six Songs was out there. And Portland, weirdly, was paying attention.


The Fashion Jungle settling into the studio. Gretchen Schaefer photo.

The Fashion Jungle settling into the studio. Gretchen Schaefer photo.


O clarity! O passion! The Fashion Jungle’s Six Songs, presented for your listening pleasure in newly bright and impactful versions, thanks to the miracle of learning how to use technology. Recorded in January 1984 at the Outlook, Bethel, Maine. Remastered in 2005 and 2012.

  • End of the Affair (Hubley) The Chapman-Torraca Fashion Jungle presents a number dating back to the last days of the original FJ. The lyric draws on memories of a breakup in 1980, but the song is much more interesting than the real thing. I started the lyrics during a Labor Day 1981 getaway at the Grey Havens Inn in Georgetown, Maine.
  • Curious Attraction (Chapman) One of the very best Fashion Jungle songs, this funky sci-fi love song was written and sung by bassist Steve. It gave Ken his long-awaited opportunity to emulate Charlie Watts in “Miss You.”
  • Peacetime Hero (Sullivan) One of two songs that Jim Sullivan wrote for the original Fashion Jungle in 1981, inspired by the reintroduction of capital punishment. This excellent narrative stayed with the FJ from start to finish.
  • Pleasures of the Flesh (Reynolds-Hubley) Ken sings his lyric about a “friends with benefits” arrangement that ultimately produces neither benefits nor friendship. I composed the tune for our second and last songwriting collaboration.
  • Final Words (Chapman) Roaming through time and space on a sublime romantic journey, Steve’s second Six Songs contribution adds a stunning new dimension, as well as some lofty drama in a band known for such, to the FJ catalog. And Kathren’s keyboards are a perfect complement to the lyrics.
  • Nothing to Say (Hubley) . . . and it takes me five minutes to say it. Not content to dwell on my own perceived inadequacies as a songwriter, I also took issue with the New Wave mega-sellout of the mid-’80s.
  • Nothing to Say Demo (Hubley) Around 1983 I developed the habit, which I still have, of settling into a bar to write song lyrics. The booze helps, but the decisive elements are the neutrality of the setting and the random stimuli. So it’s interesting enough to keep my brain ticking over, but there’s nothing for me to get involved with besides the song. I wrote this complaint at Carbur’s, a restaurant and bar on Middle Street, in Portland. Here’s the demo I recorded for the band to learn it from.
Ken and Kathren. Gretchen Schaefer photo.

Ken and Kathren. Gretchen Schaefer photo.

“End of the Affair” and “Nothing to Say” copyright © 1984 by Douglas L. Hubley. “Curious Attraction” and “Final Words” copyright © 1984 by Steven Chapman. “Peacetime Hero” copyright © 1981 by James Sullivan. “Pleasures of the Flesh” copyright © 1984 by Kenneth W. Reynolds and Douglas L. Hubley.

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

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