Notes From a Basement

By Doug Hubley: Sounds and reflections of a musical life

Search Results for: “Day for Night

Day for Night: Love of Train

Amtrak’s California Zephyr heads east through Palisade, Colo., in June 2011.


“Next time you throw a train, invite me.” — Janis Joplin

Next time you hear a train, visit Day for Night at the Bandcamp store! Day for Night


Gretchen Schaefer on the California Zephyr, 2011. Hubley Archives.

My earliest train memory

is very brief. I remember being placed in a dark upholstered seat, under dim yellow light, in a passenger coach in or around Augusta, Maine. The family Ford had died on a bridge and we took the train back to Portland. Those were the last years of passenger rail on the Maine Central Railroad, and I was 4 or 5 years old.

A hill in the Sierra Nevada, seen from the Zephyr in June 2017. Hubley Archives.

My father carried me into the house from the taxi, a yellow car with big fins, that lingered idling on Richland Street.

At some point in childhood I started reading Model Railroader magazine and even attempted to build a layout. It was pathetic. I had no money and no skills, and the trains never ran on the South Portland & Pacific. I envied my cousins, accomplished model railroaders who had a fine layout in the basement of their home in Bangor, accessed through a trapdoor in the side porch.

My family visited Boston sometimes and I was captivated by the subways, the smell of ozone and hot grease and dust, the screech of steel wheels on steel rails. I wanted to build a model subway layout with glass covering the tunnels. That never happened.

Rolling through Colorado in June 2011. Photo by Gretchen Schaefer.

On a cold November morning in late 1968, my mother kindly brought me to the Grand Trunk railroad yard on India Street to see a steam locomotive. It was pulling a foliage excursion train to Island Pond, Vt.

Yugoslavia by train, 1976. Hubley Archives.

I can’t remember if we saw the locomotive or not, but the rail yard seemed pretty serious, heavy rails dense on the ground and treacherous, shining and slick. A few years later I took that foliage train northwest a few times — behind diesel-electric locomotives, as steam was all done by then.

I love trains and I always have. In these days of encroaching old age, the reading that pleases me the most — after pop and country music history of the 20th century — is about trains. I observe each car of the freight trains that hold me up at grade crossings. At work and at home, I pause to listen when trains sound their horns, though there’s rarely any difference from one instance to the next. We get a particular thrill from hearing Amtrak’s Downeaster go calling through the woods behind our house.

Scenic views from our maiden voyage on the Zephyr. Hubley Archives.


For years I carried a torch for O.R. Cummings’ history of the Portland-Lewiston electric interurban line, whose roadbed we sometimes stroll, and finally found the booklet at a model railroad show in early 2017 for the bargain price of $0.00.

Jesup, Ga., seen from the Silver Meteor, December 2015. Hubley Archives.

But the love for trains is an uneasy love.

No one shames you for it, exactly, but there’s a comprehension gap at best and at worst, a kind of amused pity because one is waxing so romantic over something so, well, unromantic. Seen objectively, railroading can be a brutal business, physically and ethically.

What better view from a hotel window on a hopeful early morning: the Amtrak station in Emeryville, Calif. Hubley Archives.

It’s easy to make a fool of a train lover (it’s a favorite pastime for Republicans in Congress). American passenger trains are slow at best and really slow at worst (see previous parenthetical comment). All that we train lovers ask of the train is a nice time, and so often what we get is a bus ride through New York state, eating sandwiches off our laps (2013, Lake Shore Limited).

Too early for breakfast on the Zephyr, 2013. Hubley Archives.

So train lovers are an awkward minority, and I can say this as a member, although I don’t express my love by spending hours at trackside awaiting a photo opp nor by wearing an engineer’s cap and overalls to the model railroad expo.

One’s acquaintances may well express respect when one advocates for train travel over the pleasures of flying, long-distance driving or riding a bus. They say, “That’s so cool! I’d love to do that!”

But they never will, preferring to fly, drive all day or ride the bus.

Somewhere swampy on the way to Florida on the Silver Meteor. Hubley Archives.


I’m especially reluctant to enthuse about riding trains when I’m talking to one of those dry-humored, brusquely competent types who don’t let romance cloud their view of practical realities. These are good people to deal with when you’re trying to straighten out your E-ZPass account, but you still know they’ll smirk at you if you mention trains. (And a lot of them work on the trains. Railroad employees tend to call railroad fans “foamers,” as in foaming at the mouth with excitement at seeing a train. Mean!)

Tuning up on the Lake Shore Limited, 2013. Photo by Gretchen Schaefer.

In the context of creative work, this attitude can have corrosive effects. I like and respect the comedic banjo player Steve Martin, but got my nose out of joint over public remarks he made about the contemporary (lack of) relevance of train songs — even as he performs with a bluegrass band that plays train songs. (Needless to say, Day for Night performs a number of train songs.)

Steve, the trains still run. The fact that no one rides the truss rods anymore doesn’t mean trains aren’t relevant. Grabbing a train to flee a failed love affair is no less poignant because nowadays you can get a beer and Snickers to ease the sting — and it may be more poignant, because how pathetic is that? You want relevance? The Lac-Mégantic train tragedy has a distinctly 21st-century feel to it, wouldn’t you say?

At the same time, I will admit that writing about the Amtrak experience is really a challenge. I believe it’s possible to touch the soul with a song set on the Northeast Regional — the name alone is poetry — but it took years to make it happen:

First-ever night on the Lake Shore Limited, 2011. Hubley Archives.

I am blessed in having found a companion who loves trains too. Gretchen Schaefer, my partner in life and in the acoustic country duo Day for Night, and I tend to reserve our vacation dollars for travel by train, particularly for trips that enable us to hole up in a train roomette, the smaller size of Amtrak sleeping compartment, for many hours or a few days.

(In 2016 we flew to Emeryville, Calif., for the sole purpose of riding Amtrak’s California Zephyr all the way back to Chicago, whence we rode the Lake Shore Limited all the way back to Boston, whence we had to settle for the bus to Portland because the LSL was so late.)

Starting with a rollicking Amtrak ride to Montreal in 1982, the year after we met, Gretchen and I have gone out of our way, often literally, to take the train. In fact, looking just at destination Montreal, we have ridden three different trains to get there, including the Canadian VIA Rail Atlantic that, between the late 1960s and its elimination in 1994, provided Maine’s only regular passenger rail service. (Riding west in 1987, we boarded the Atlantic at Brownville Junction around midnight and then, homeward bound, detrained into the pitch-black night in Greenville around 2 a.m. Somehow we found the motel.)

The Zephyr takes it slow around a curve in the Sierra Nevada. Hubley Archives.


Always a personal imperative, the train became something of a musical haven for us in 2011. Our first train trip to the West was a mind-bending expedition that included a crossing of the Rockies and visits to Grand Junction, the Colorado National Monument and little Palisade, land of wine grapes, cherries and peaches.

Waiting for a train in Mystic, Conn. Hubley Archives.

That was the first year we had instruments small enough to travel with: a mandolin for me and a Martin Backpacker guitar for Gretchen. It was also the year we decided to try Amtrak’s sleeping accommodations: specifically, the tiny roomettes.

The roomette has two facing seats so you can see your partner. Between the seats you can unfold a table to hold your lyric sheets and snacks (for us, M&M peanuts) and booze (Jack Daniels). There’s not much room otherwise — unpacking an instrument can be awkward — but there’s enough. (Suggested additional viewing: the documentary Festival Express.)

Nevada, 2017. Hubley Archives.

Words to live by. Union Station, Denver. Hubley Archives.

There’s a big window so you can see western Massachusetts woods, Chicago warehouses, Iowa cornfields and Rocky Mountains going by; and there’s interior glass facing the corridor so you can observe humanity going by should you choose to leave the curtains open. The interior glass lets enough sound pass to inform the neighbors that there are cool musicians nearby, but not enough to create a public nuisance.

Looking west from the tail end of the California Zephyr. Hubley Archives.

In 2011, we rode the Downeaster to Boston, the LSL to Chicago and the Zephyr out to Grand Junction, Colo., on the Utah border. It was on the LSL that we first played music on a train, establishing the routine we’ve observed ever since: tiny instruments, booze and snacks, passers-by swaying down the unsteady corridor, the world’s fascinations speeding past to be savored or ignored.

What worlds we traversed in that two-day ride: The waters of upstate New York at dusk, the hideous Gary Works in Indiana, the sun on the green fields of Illinois and Iowa, the foul feedlots of Nebraska and eastern Colorado, the red Rockies with floodwaters rushing through.

And what an intimate way to play music: acoustically, bodily, hedonically, geographically intimate. If you love trains and love music, how could it get any better? It’s not exactly nirvana — too many stimuli — but it’s certainly a kind of bliss where all good things are present for you, and your only responsibility is to be receptive to them (and to show your ticket when the conductor asks for it. And to not be a jerk).

At night the roomette seats convert to little beds, one up, one down. It’s not the best sleep in terms of becoming rested, but it does add another dimension, a psychic Instagram filter, to the unique phenomenological experience that is long-distance train travel. The whistle howls, dull fluorescent platform lights shine in your face during station stops in the wee small hours, the whistle howls, the train motion is back and forth, up and down, side to side; the whistle howls.

Then you get up, feel the full glory of introversion during an awkward breakfast with strangers in the dining car, and return to your little world behind glass, free to read, write, make music or just become one with the passing world.

A Boston & Maine caboose somewhere in upstate New York, June 2013. Hubley Archives.

My love of trains, like any thought pattern imprinted early on, is hard to explain. I love trains because I have always loved trains, which isn’t much of a reason aside from being true. Perhaps this explains the challenge of capturing the appeal of trains in a song, especially while you’re sitting around for five hours, with no end in sight and no information from Amtrak, in the Rensselaer railroad station.

But it’s easy to explain why Gretchen and I love to ride trains. Even riding coach, they are comfortable, the sightseeing is pleasant and one has no responsibility, etc. Non-train people complain about trains’ slowness and lateness, but for us time is not an issue (setting aside that Rensselaer thing) because the train, unlike the car, plane or bus, is as much the destination as it is the transportation.

And taking a sleeping accommodation, as we often do, provides still another benefit that, similar to the way caffeine enhances the effects of aspirin, heightens all the pleasures of the train: privacy.

Gretchen and I are a reclusive and introverted couple who, it seems, move through the world at all times in a virtual train compartment of mutual interests and fascinations, not least with one another. The Amtrak roomette is not just the conveyance of choice, but a perfect metaphor for us.


Enjoy some train songs from the Day for Night archives.

  • Mr. Engineer (Jimmy Martin-Paul Williams) We first heard Jimmy Martin perform this on the “Trains” episode of Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour. On that same episode we also heard (and subsequently learned) “Train of Love” by Johnny Cash. Louis Armstrong’s “2:19 Blues” is still out there waiting for us. From an October 2013 performance at the Royal Bean, Yarmouth. Songs of Universal, Inc.
  • I Remember the Railroad (Gene Clark) I have loved this song since I first got my mitts on Gene Clark’s LP Roadmaster in 1977, but thought it was too much of a dirge to perform. Not so, as this 2011 living room performance suggests. Irving Music, Inc.
  • What the Train Can Do For You (Hubley) A few years ago, Amtrak offered to heap riches and fame on someone who could show that whatever they wrote on a train trip would rise to glory on social media. I entered the contest and got nowhere, thanks to my minuscule social media presence. But the experience provoked me to finish a song about the emotional benefits of train riding. From a September 2019 rehearsal.
  • (Waiting For A) Westbound Train (Hubley) Inspired by a conductor’s announcement on Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited, I wrote this on the back porch of a cabin at the Chautauqua in Boulder, Colo., in June 2019. The conductor said we were stopped to wait for an eastbound train, but between the alliteration, which is nothing to be sneezed at in songwriting, and the fraught and many-layered symbolism of East vs. West in the American mythology, I had to bend the facts in this song to suit the reality. “We’re headed back East as we always must be / To the same old and the good old and the old used-to-be.” From a September 2019 rehearsal.

“What The Train Can Do For You” copyright © 2018 by Douglas L. Hubley. “(Waiting For A) Westbound Train” copyright © 2019 by Douglas L. Hubley. Text and “Hubley Archives” images copyright © 2017 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.

Day for Night: World Domination

Gretchen Schaefer and Doug Hubley look skeptical in a 2008 publicity image. Photo by Kodak self-timer / Hubley Archives.

Gretchen Schaefer and Doug Hubley look skeptical in a 2008 publicity image. Photo by Kodak self-timer / Hubley Archives.

Hear Day for Night perform Charlie and Ira Louvin’s “When I Stop Dreaming” in 2018.


I admit that for a band that plays

four to eight public performances a year, and considers the high end of that range hectic, it may be grandiose to state that we ever “arrived.”

But if Day for Night did arrive, it was in 2008. And to my mind, the time of arrival was a private party that we played that October.

Day for Night rates a whole paragraph in the Sun Journal's advance for the Jan. 2008 Powder Kegs gig. Hubley Archives.

Day for Night rates a whole paragraph in the Sun Journal’s advance for the Jan. 2008 Powder Kegs gig. Hubley Archives.

It was an afternoon-to-evening bash in a big attractive loft in Brunswick. Gretchen Schaefer and I were joined by our friends Steve Chapman, on bass, and drummer Willy Thurston, and we called the foursome the Day for Night Orchestra.

A number of other acts were scheduled to play, most of them combinations and permutations of a group of people that, taken altogether, were the big band headlining the show. The ringleader was an impolite fellow who didn’t seem to want us there.

He fussed about this and was rude about that. We stowed our guitar cases in the wrong places at least twice. The coleslaw that we made from homegrown cabbage and brought for the potluck meal was an object of disdain.

Still and all, we were businesslike, played pretty well, put our hearts into it, connected with the listeners, and were polite to the man who didn’t want us there — who went on to confirm it, once the crowd started showing some enthusiasm, by running up to the mic and cutting off our set. His party, after all.

I nevertheless ended up feeling good about the whole thing. That show came late in a year of performances in diverse settings, from a concert at Bates College to the Cornish Apple Festival. It was a year in which we got established as Day for Night, finding our footing as an acoustic country duo after two decades in electric bands.

We worked the fussy man’s birthday party with a combination of aplomb and musical focus that told me that we’d found that footing (albeit, at the risk of contradicting my premise, as an acoustic duo with an electric rhythm section). If we walked away irritated with the birthday boy, we were very satisfied at how we handled his party.

I felt, in short, that we’d arrived.

Gretchen Schaefer at the Library, Portsmouth, N.H., in 2008. Hubley Archives.

Gretchen Schaefer at the Library, Portsmouth, N.H., in 2008. Hubley Archives.

Yes, tape

As Gretchen and I started feeling more confident about Day for Night, I fired up — as I do pretty much reflexively at this late date — the single-cylinder publicity machine.

Top priority on that front was obtaining demo-quality recordings. Steve rolled the tape (yes, tape. Four-track tape!) for sessions in July 2007 and July 2008.

The 2007 demo landed us a short string of dates at the Frog & Turtle Gastropub, in Westbrook, where we were discouraged by the crash and clatter from the kitchen, directly behind us; but encouraged by Johnny Cash on the house sound system and the generosity of owner James Tranchemontagne.

The 2007 demo also helped get us a gig that shines on in my memory: a spot at Bates College, where I work, opening for a band of hipsters called the Powder Kegs. They were billed as an Americana band, which D4N also is, sort of. So I threw myself at the feet of the event sponsor, the student radio station.

The performance took place in January 2008. The night was frigid and starry, the campus walkways were glare ice.

The setlist for Day for Night's opening spot for the Powder Kegs (where are they now?) at Bates College. Hubley Archives.

The setlist for Day for Night’s opening spot for the Powder Kegs (where are they now?) at Bates College in January 2008. We had learned every song here from the Louvin Brothers, Everly Brothers, or Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris. We would soon begin broadening our catalog. Hubley Archives.

The publicity machine had coughed out a news release that, through the Lewiston Sun Journal, attracted an old-school country audience of 20 or 30. It was plain that those folks, people in their 50s and 60s and 70s, from Minot and Livermore Falls and Greene, weren’t there for the Powder Kegs. (After our set, one of those listeners talked to us at length about WWVA, the legendary West Virginia country radio station. I was flattered that he would associate Day for Night with the home of the “Jamboree.”)

We eschewed our usual multi-instrumental assault and stuck to two guitars. The sound operator knew his stuff, gave us perfect onstage sound, brought out our best. The locals really liked us — we could see and feel their attention. The Powder Kegs crowd hadn’t gotten there yet.

Okay, I’m romanticizing, but I recall that performance as one of Day for Night’s best-ever (even though I messed up the lyrics to “Cathy’s Clown”).

I incorporated the 2008 demo CD (yes, CD), which even had a picture of us on the label, into a proper press kit (albeit without any sort of treat like the key-pins that the Boarders had distributed).

Yes, four years into the Facebook era, and I was packing press kits in manila envelopes. I still keep a few of the kits around while I look for a museum that will take them.

One October evening we tromped around Portland with a sack of press kits. The kit failed to seduce Empire and Space Gallery, but did work some kind of magic with Blue, the Portland, Maine, nightspot where we went on to play a few times a year between 2008 and 2014. And, as I have noted in an earlier post, 2008 was the year we began our long run at the Cornish Apple Festival.

From the top, Day for Night's first, second and current business cards. Hubley Archives.

From the top, Day for Night’s first, second and current business cards. Gretchen designed the rooster crowing at the moon. Hubley Archives.

Hungry catalog

Simultaneous with the search for gigs in 2008 was a greed for new material.

A previous post describes how a select few artists — the Louvin Brothers, Everly Brothers, Gram Parsons — helped us set our musical compass. In fact, of the 32 songs we performed at a representative D4N date in May 2008, six came from the Everlys, seven from Parsons (including two that he learned from the Everlys) and 11 from the Louvins.

But soon enough, we’d mined out most of the appealing Louvins-Everlys-Parsons repertoire and were eyeing all the other country musicians out there. (Not literally “all.” Setting aside the songs I write, we knew from the start that c. 1938–1978 was our happy place in country music, and with a couple of exceptions we’ve haven’t ventured out of it. This approach was validated by many wasted hours spent watching the primetime soap opera Nashville.)

The Day for Night repertoire in mid-2008. Note our early lineup at left -- Everlys, Louvins, too many instruments — and the new material at right, all arranged for two guitars and reflecting later influences like Gene Clark and Webb Pierce. Hubley Archives.

The Day for Night repertoire in mid-2008. Note our early lineup at left — Everlys, Louvins, too many instruments — and the new material at right, all arranged for two guitars and reflecting a wider range of influences. Hubley Archives.

Exacerbating the repertoire hunger was a sort of feedback loop: The more country we got, the less appropriate a lot of our older material became, so we were shedding material as fast as we added it. It was only inevitable that we’d bust out of our little repertory corral.

I dug deeper into artists I’d always liked. An example is the late Gene Clark, the former Byrd whose songwriting may be the color that’s deepest-dyed in my own compositions.

Harold Eugene Clark — Gene Clark — whose awkwardnesses with lyrics and music somehow translated into a higher order of pathos and poeticism. Clark, who was too passive to stop Crosby from taking the Gretsch away from him, but not too passive to drive a vintage Ferrari; whose two Columbia albums with the Byrds were the band’s best; and who was the only Byrd to bother bringing good original material to the quintet’s 1973 reunion LP.

Clark, not a pure country artist in style, but one of the purest in spirit.

In 2008, in a kind of fever, we learned his “Tried So Hard,” “She Don’t Care About Time,” “Why Not Your Baby” (on autoharp and accordion), “Full Circle Song” and “Polly.” The last two remain in our active repertoire. Later came “I Remember the Railroad.”

If Gene Clark material was a fad for us that year, the George Jones catalog was, and remains, a long-term project. We have claimed a few — “Beneath Still Waters” is one of our strongest numbers — but between the sui generis superiority of Jones’ singing and the tinniness of much of his material, it’s hard to find Jones numbers that suit both our abilities and our fussy tastes.

Doug Hubley at John's Grill, San Francisco, February 2008. Gretchen Schaefer photo.

Doug Hubley at John’s Grill, San Francisco, February 2008. Gretchen Schaefer photo.

Gretchen was not a Buck Owens fan. (Fair enough. I mean, “Tiger by the Tail,” really? “Where Does the Good Times Go?” Obviously they doesn’t go where there’s grammar.) But he sure could sing, and in 2009 we picked up “Under Your Spell Again,” which remains a high point in our set.

We also started exploring artists we’d known about forever but hadn’t looked into. From Webb Pierce we got “There Stands the Glass,” “Wondering” and “More and More,” the latter two boasting lovely lead vocals by Gretchen Schaefer.

From Wynn Stewart came “The Long Black Limousine” (and “Playboy” is still on my to-do list).

I’d heard “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (and Loud, Loud Music)” by the Flying Burrito Brothers, but we weren’t moved to learn it till we heard it by the Maddox Brothers and Rose. We combine “Dim Lights” with George Jones’ “Your Angel Steps Out of Heaven” in our so-called Cheating Housewives medley.

And, when I got home from work one day in 2008, Gretchen surprised me by launching into “Just Someone I Used to Know,” the brilliant Jack Clement number that we heard by Dolly and Porter.

In 2009, the “Trains” episode of Bob Dylan’s splendid “Theme Time Radio Hour” on SiriusXM gave us two hot tickets: Jimmy Martin’s “Mr. Engineer” and Johnny Cash’s “Train of Love.” (Ah, those Monday nights sitting in the Pontiac Vibe, listening to Bobby.)

And on it went, and on it goes. (Anyone for the Bailes Brothers?) 2008 was as big as the big time gets for Day for Night: four to eight gigs a year, from the Frog & Turtle to Blue to Andy’s Old Port Pub, from the Cornish Apple Festival to the Cornish Inn, from the Last House on the Left to the launch party for a friend’s hot dog cart on the banks of the Presumpscot River.

So we arrived and so here we are. For a couple of aging introverts, it could be worse.

Day for Night: Cornish, the Apple of Our Eye


Video by Jeff Stanton. “The Ceiling” and “Bittersweet” copyright © 2010 and 2011 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.


What! You wish to read the following 2,300 words? Please fortify yourself with a nourishing Day for Night performance from the 2014 Cornish Apple Festival!


If you’re planning a trip,

even a little getaway, it’s always wise to research your destination in advance.

Jeff Stanton, Gretchen Schaefer and Doug Hubley living the dream on the veranda at the Cornish Inn, 2014. Photo by iPhone.

Jeff Stanton, Gretchen Schaefer and Doug Hubley living the dream on the veranda at the Cornish Inn, 2014. Photo by iPhone.

But if Gretchen Schaefer and I had done that kind of homework prior to a weekend getaway to Cornish, Maine, in 2007, we might never have landed one of the best gigs Day for Night has ever had — nor embarked upon our present happy relationship with that little town in southwestern Maine.

The getaway plan was to spend a Saturday afternoon and night at the Cornish Inn, right in the heart of downtown: playing music, enjoying the inn’s fine restaurant and relaxing in sleepy little Cornish.

Some sleepy. When we arrived early on the Saturday afternoon, traffic on Route 25, the main drag, was heavy and barely creeping along. Tiny Thompson Park, opposite the inn, was white with vendor tents. A mass of humanity circulated through and around the park, and up and down the main street. A band on a flatbed trailer played “Folsom Prison Blues.”

We were lucky, as we now know, to get a space in the inn’s parking lot, or anywhere else in town on that particular Saturday. We had unwittingly chosen for our quiet getaway the day of the annual Cornish Apple Festival, a regional attraction held on the last Saturday in September every year from 1989 through 2019, after which the COVID-19 put a stop to it (temporarily, we hope). The festival, held simultaneously with a separate musical event at a nearby apple orchard, used to be the busiest day of the year for Cornish.

The main drag at dusk, seen from the Cornish Inn, 2014. Hubley Archives.

The main drag at dusk, seen from the Cornish Inn, 2014. Hubley Archives.

If we’d known about the festival, crowd-averse types that we are, we might have chosen a different getaway destination. But the festival proved to be a conversion experience for us.

A few trips in the old green Squareback through western Maine in the 1980s had introduced us to Cornish, and though for a while our visits were much less frequent, the town stayed with us. The big rambling wooden buildings, the trees drooping heavily over the park, the hard curve over the mill dam into downtown. But back then I had neither the knowledge nor the curiosity to appreciate the town’s story in any depth.

Another antique store find in Cornish. Hubley Archives.

Another antique store find in Cornish. Hubley Archives.

Part of Cornish’s visual appeal is that so much remains from that late 19th-century prosperity: that large mirror-like mill pond at the hard curve, for instance, and those big wooden buildings, many still elegant with their Victorian gingerbread.

Another part of the appeal for me, I’m ashamed to report, is that Cornish is somewhat past those prosperous days. It’s doing OK, but not booming, and I like Cornish better for its having failed to become a theme park of itself, even though the downtown businesses are largely given over to tourist appeal, including the regionally popular restaurant Krista’s and way more antique stores than any town of 1,500 really needs.

Country lights at a country fair: The Ossipee Valley Fair, 2008. Hubley Archives.

Country lights at a country fair: The Ossipee Valley Fair, 2008. Hubley Archives.

Meanwhile, all the essential services have fled west from downtown to a district where there’s open land for parking lots.

My work as a music journalist, and later as a writer for a college magazine in Maine, brought us up there occasionally, thanks to the Saco River Music Festival, which presented concerts in the elementary school up on High Street (a school that the town later sold and that is now a church).

In July 2006, I was working on a profile of Frank Glazer — Maine pianist, Saco River festival founder and resident artist at the college where I work — for the magazine. Gretchen and I drove up to see a Saco River festival concert by Glazer and his protege Duncan Cumming, now a music professor in Albany. (Glazer died in 2015.)

The Cornish Inn booked us in December 2011. Jeff Stanton photo.

The Cornish Inn booked us in December 2011. Jeff Stanton photo.

It was a nice event: Glazer and Cumming made good music, of course, and filled the little auditorium. Past them, through a glass wall behind the stage, the trees and foothills stretched out toward the sunset in a very Cornishy way.

Prior to the concert, Gretchen and I had stopped at the Cornish Inn for a glass of wine. I vividly recall the brilliant yellow the sun cast onto the wall and the wine in our big glasses glowing that exact same color. The restaurant (it was Krista’s first location, before they moved up the street next to the mill stream) was packed, probably with concert-goers like us. It was just happy. Cornish can be like that.

That was the experience that brought us back in September 2007.

Inspired by the disciplined repertoire-building we had done three months prior in Colorado, we spent that Saturday afternoon learning Frank Loesser’s “Have I Stayed Away Too Long,” one of several tunes we had mined that year from the Louvin Brothers treasure trove Ira and Charlie.

Living the dream: Day for Night's one and only performance on a flatbed trailer, September 2009. Jeff Stanton photo.

Living the dream: Day for Night’s one and only performance on a flatbed trailer, September 2009. Jeff Stanton photo.

I remember standing in our little Cornish Inn room, with its rolling wooden floor, drinking Jack Daniels and working out the song (“Try strumming it like the Everlys’ ‘Roving Gambler”’) while the festival gradually petered out in the park.

The 2009 Apple Festival performance from a different angle. Jeff Stanton photo.

The 2009 Apple Festival performance from a different angle. Jeff Stanton photo.

The timing of that visit was fortuitous but not insignificant. Having spent three years flubbing around after the demise of our previous band, the electric Howling Turbines, we had focused on acoustic country music and we wanted to work.

Our first performance as Day for Night had taken place in July, and the Cornish jaunt came just prior to gigs at Bates College and the Frog & Turtle Gastropub, in Westbrook.

So we took it as a sign when we found ourselves smack dab in the middle of a well-attended festival that featured a band playing Johnny Cash on a flatbed trailer.

After that highly satisfying weekend, we decided that we absolutely had to try for a booking at the Cornish Apple Festival. So during the winter we threw ourselves at the festival organizers, the Cornish Association of Businesses. And it paid off, albeit in a roundabout way.

A poster for Day for Night's first performance in Cornish, Maine.

A poster for Day for Night’s first performance in Cornish, Maine.

CAB offered us sort of an audition: By performing two sets at an association fundraiser party in the spring, D4N could give the locals a chance to check us out. In consideration of our effort and expense, CAB in turn would comp us with gift certificates for a local motel and restaurant.

The “Spring Celebration” took place on the chilly evening of May 4, 2008, in a just-opened physical therapy center located, natch, west of downtown. We were still working out our performance practice, and at that point our ridiculously complicated stage setup included:

  • his ‘n’ her music stands, microphone stands with handy drink holders, instrument stands and spot monitors;
  • two guitars, an accordion and an autoharp;
  • a little Yamaha PA that we had bought during the fall, trading in the venerable half-ton, eight-channel Peavey mixer-amp;
  • and a black tangle of cables that covered the floor and strung all the different stands together in treacherous snares and loops that conspired together to threaten to pull the whole works down should a person so much as place one foot wrong.

Day for Night: The Spring Celebration, 2008 from Hubley Industries Music on Vimeo. Video by Jeff Stanton.


Day for Night captive to The Rig, 2008 Spring Celebration, Cornish. Jeff Stanton photo.

Day for Night captive to The Rig, 2008 Spring Celebration, Cornish. Jeff Stanton photo.

Much of the evening we played and sang to a reverberant and all-but-empty gym as the revelry rumbled on in another part of the building. I ended the date thinking we hadn’t done that well — with my accordion work being a particular weakness — but Jeff Stanton’s video footage reveals that for the most part, we acquitted ourselves well.

And indeed: We did get hired for the 2008 festival (and each subsequent festival through 2019, except for 2015, when we were sidelined by a medical issue.)

On the drive back, through the fading daylight along a few miles of Route 25, the spring peepers were so loud that we could hear them clearly through the closed car windows.

The setlist for our first Cornish Apple Festival performance, in 2008. “Brunswick” at the bottom refers to a gig we played the following month with bassist Steve Chapman and drummer Willy Thurston. Hubley Archives.

In the years since our first Apple Festival performance, we came to expect warmth and brilliant sun for the event. But for that 2008 debut, the weather was cold and rainy and we played under a canopy on a low stage made from shipping pallets and plywood. (They’ve brought in the flatbed trailer only once since we have played there — too bad, considering what it would do for our country credibility.)

At the festival, in contrast to the Spring Celebration, we went for simplicity and played only guitar material. The weather caused some of the scheduled acts — as well as the PA provider — to withdraw. Gretchen and I were recovering from colds, but we managed to sing loud and still keep our voices throughout our allotted hour.

Found in a Cornish antique store. Hubley Archives.

Spotted in a Cornish antique store. Hubley Archives.

Across the street in Thompson Park, the apple fritter fryers, apple crisp and apple pie pushers, and myriad other vendors and craftspeople and fundraisers soldiered on through the cool wet morning and the depleted trade. The performance was fun despite all — and having done our bit when others had stayed in out of the rain, didn’t we feel like heroes?

Cornish days
Though the variables have varied, our festival visits followed a more-or-less consistent pattern.

Most years we stayed at the Cornish inn, known in later years as the Inn at Cornish. The Apple Festival tended to put us onstage us early in the day, which means that we were singing songs of alcohol abuse and adultery to families with young children at 9 or 10 in the morning. But the early start did leave us most of the day free to do what we like to do best in Cornish: hang around.

Our friend Jeff Stanton often made the scenic drive out Route 25 to see us perform. After the Day for Night segment, while the glittery little girls from the local dance school tap out their show in the middle of High Street, we’d stash the musical gear and seek out lunch at the inn or busy Krista’s.

Doug Hubley, Gretchen Schaefer and Willy Thurston at the 2011 Cornish Apple Festival. Jeff Stanton photo.

Doug Hubley, Gretchen Schaefer and Willy Thurston at the 2011 Cornish Apple Festival. Jeff Stanton photo.

Later we’d score some apple pie à la mode or apple crisp from festival vendors in Thompson Park (named for an eccentric 19th-century doctor who rarely charged his patients, and who allowed his neighbors to make free with his gardens and orchards). There were also crafters (pot holders!) and a festival-specific booth selling T-shirts and posters.

At some point we might stroll out the River Road and cross the Ossipee River to Friendly River Music, a guitar store distinguished by the variety and vintage of its offering, as well as its longevity as a business. (I traded a Telecaster toward a black Strat there in 1982, and three years later, at Friendly River’s now-defunct Portland branch, on Congress Square, I bought the oddball two-knob Strat that was my main guitar for many years.)

One year, Jeff and Gretchen and I spent the afternoon at a different music festival, the annual bluegrass-plus event hosted by Apple Acres, a forward-thinking orchard in nearby Hiram. We ate giant chicken legs, bought cider doughnuts and watched performances by a Maine bluegrass band and by the four Parkington Sisters, a slick southern New England act that had nothing at all to do with bluegrass.

Gretchen Schaefer at the 2013 Apple Acres bluegrass event. Hubley Archives.

Gretchen Schaefer at the 2013 Apple Acres bluegrass event. Hubley Archives.

More recently, we spent increasing amounts of time just loitering on the Cornish Inn’s long porches: very agreeable on a warm sunny afternoon as the festival winds down, the tourists drain away, the vendors pack up their booths and food trucks, and the old motorheads putter off in the Model T Fords that they always parked behind the inn.

All in all, Cornish and the festival painted such a picture of white-picket-fence America (do I need to point out the apple pie symbolism?) that I sometimes ponder their seductive power over me — out-on-the-side me, ironic me, bohemian me, not-a-team-player me, shunning-kids-and-dogs me.

But doggone it, the place is just charming with its curvy roads, the lofty wooden buildings, the antique shops, the gemlike little park — how do they fit all those booths in there, anyway? — and its view of the tree-covered foothills from which Gretchen and I, in July 2008, standing with our guitars on a balcony at the Midway Country Lodging, out there west of downtown, saw a deer wander idly into a clearing.

Holland Pond, near Cornish, October 2015. Hubley Archives.

Holland Pond, near Cornish, October 2015. Hubley Archives.

Doggone it: The back porch at Krista’s, which is pretty much the place to be in Cornish, hangs over the mill stream and is lit with Japanese lanterns.

Friendly River had a 1961 Gretsch one year that made the most beautiful electric guitar sound ever, despite the decades-old strings.

When a local garage owner died, I recognized him in the newspaper obit because he once talked to us about a vintage Ford convertible parked in front of his house.

On stage at one Apple Festival, I got a laugh from a couple of teenagers when I introduced a song, one of our adultery specials no doubt, with the remark that “what happens in Limington, stays in Limington.” (Neighboring town. All right, you had to be there.)

Another specimen in a Cornish antique store. Orange you glad you came to the dance? Hubley Archives.

Another specimen in a Cornish antique store. Orange you glad you came to the dance? Hubley Archives.

Looking, though, what we did during the evening of our first visit as Apple Festival performers seems to symbolize the most profound reason we keep going back. The gig gets us there; the sweet town fills our day; but the chance to probe deeper into what Day for Night might, maybe someday, be able to show an audience is what anchors us to Cornish.

After dinner in 2008 we set up camp in the inn’s living room and played for another hour or so. We were tired and hoarse, and punishing the Jack Daniels, but somehow it all worked.

It was the kind of music-making that keeps us coming back to places like Cornish. The pressure was off — not just performance pressure, but the day jobs, the family issues, the getting older, the persistent scratching of cares at the door.

We were playing only for the pure experience of the music and each other.

As the dinner crowd hummed on in the dining room nearby, we drooped over our guitars, pawed through the lyric sheets, crept through songs familiar and otherwise, and finally gave the other guests a break and went to bed.


  • Day for Night performs at the 2014 Cornish Apple Festival:
    You Wore It Well (Hubley) A song begun in a hotel room in Portsmouth, N.H., and completed in Cottage No. 19 at the Colorado Chautauqua in June 2013.

More of Day for Night at the 2014 Apple Festival, in a Jeff Stanton video:

Visit the Bandcamp store.

Notes From a Basement text copyright © 2012-2016 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.

Day for Night: Colorado Dreamin’

“I’m living the dream.”
— TSA inspector at Denver International Airport, when asked how he was doing


Back in the days of the Howling Turbines,

The view we love so well: The Flatirons from the Chautauqua Meadow, June 2013. Hubley Archives.

The view we love so well: The Flatirons from the Chautauqua Meadow, June 2013. Hubley Archives.

the three of us in the band used to fantasize about renting a villa in the Italian countryside and spending the sun-drenched Mediterranean days learning the Stax-Volt catalog.

Needless to say, that never happened for drummer Ken Reynolds, bassist Gretchen Schaefer and me. (If it had, you’d have read about it by now.)

But in 2007, three years after the Turbines ground to a halt, Gretchen and I were at last able to realize our dream of making music in a beautiful place far from the distractions of home.

Gretchen Schaefer and Doug Hubley, aka Day for Night, learn a song in Boulder, Colo., in 2008. Hubley Archives.

Gretchen Schaefer and Doug Hubley, aka Day for Night, learn a song in Boulder, Colo., in 2008. Hubley Archives.

Heaven on earth for us is the Colorado Chautauqua, where since 2007 we have occasionally been able to spend a summer week or so — hiking, seeing the town and best of all, making music. Only on vacation are we able to dedicate as much time as we’d like to music, and Colorado has given us our best musical times by far.

In fact, these Colorado sojourns have consistently helped us keep our focus as the country band Day for Night, and they continue to keep our set lists vital.

Doug rocks out on the trail. Schaefer Studios.

Doug rocks out on the trail. Schaefer Studios.

We found Colorado by accident, hopping to Boulder for a few days in July 2006 so Gretchen could attend a conference. She had first visited a friend there in the 1970s. But I had never been interested in The Centennial State, scarred by any number of John Denver songs — not to mention Rick Roberts’s “Colorado” (he was a Flying Burrito Brother how and why, exactly?).  Nevertheless, I was happy to tag along.

We stayed at a crap motel near the University of Colorado campus. Gretchen had little chance to see the city at first, spending much of her time in a remote function room undergoing professional development. But I wandered around Boulder and surprised myself by liking it fine: the mountain views, the healthy happy people, McGuckin Hardware and the Dushanbe Tea House.

Cottage No. 19 at the Colorado Chautauqua, June 2013. Hubley Archives.

Cottage No. 19 at the Colorado Chautauqua, June 2013. Hubley Archives.

Still, the real Boulder conversion experience didn’t hit us until near the end of the trip, when we visited the Colorado Chautauqua. We had tickets for a Richard Thompson and Aimee Mann concert at the Chautauqua Auditorium. The morning of the show, we slogged up Baseline Road to the Chautauqua to get the lay of the land — and were smitten.

What is this thing called Chautauqua? Named for the lake in New York state where it originated, the Chautauqua movement swept the nation in the 19th century, designed to effect self-improvement on a grand scale by means of rustic retreats replete with Nature, Fine Arts and Righteous Thinking.

Welcome to Boulder. Hubley Archives.

Welcome to Boulder. Hubley Archives.

The Colorado Chautauqua was founded in 1897 as a mountain oasis for Texas schoolteachers. Following the standard model, the Boulder version was a self-contained community, with lodgings (tents in the first year; mostly tiny cottages thereafter), a dining hall, a barn-like auditorium and other historic and attractive buildings.

Once an open field, the Chautauqua site today has matured into a leafy, sheltering hillside garden spot. Bunnies hop around and one takes precautions against bears. The Chautauqua remains a self-contained community, operated by the Colorado Chautauqua Association as a sort of resort that boasts fabulous views, good meals at the Dining Hall, a range of lodging choices and a strong offering of music, films and other entertainments at the Auditorium.

From Gretchen's travel journal, 2013.

A sketched self-portrait for Gretchen’s 2013 travel journal. Schaefer Studios.

The compound is situated on a slope above and south of downtown Boulder. Dominating the view is the riveting and iconic row of five sandstone crags called the Flatirons, visible above the pines and across the grassy expanse of the Chautauqua Meadow. The Chautauqua is a nexus for several mountain trails, some of them accessible via an unpaved fire-access road that separates the Chautauqua compound and the meadow.

The day of the concert we looked around the compound and ventured up the fire road a ways, oohing, aahing and gasping for breath. (The Chautauqua is about 6,000 feet above sea level and roughly 600 feet above downtown Boulder.) Lithe carefree young people and wise spry oldsters powered up and down the road and out across the meadow, not gasping.

The orange dirt trail, 2015. Hubley Archives.

The orange dirt trail, 2015. Hubley Archives.

So beautiful, the mountains! So blue the sky and so spacious. So charming, the tranquil Chautauqua compound with its trembling rabbits and shady lanes named for mountain flowers! So alluring, the century-old cabins with their dark woodwork and Black & Decker coffeemakers!

And so rentable, as we soon learned.

That night we enjoyed an excellent dinner on the Dining Hall porch and a half-excellent concert (Thompson, playing solo, was superior, aside from one song about his manhood that no one needed to hear; Mann was strangely lusterless). And then we hoofed it back down Baseline Road to the crap motel, in love with the Chautauqua.

Learning the mandolin, 2010.

Getting acquainted with the Big Muddy, 2010. Schaefer Studios.

The following year we stayed five or six nights in Chautauqua’s No. 30, a relatively spacious cottage with backyard access to the meadow, fire road and the connecting trails.

I think it was on our first full day in in Boulder on that 2007 trip that we established the routine that we continue to observe, all these years later, for the simple reason that it’s our idea of heaven:

It starts with the trail. Boulder was our introduction, as a couple, to a style of hiking that was clearly on a higher level, experientially as well as topographically, than I at least had ever undertaken. Getting into the Flatirons, along with the Enchanted Mesa, Skunk and Gregory canyons, and other wild areas near the Chautauqua, has made a nature lover out of me.

After recovering from the morning hike, it’s a big lunch downtown (may we recommend Brasserie Ten Ten, where we ate every day during our 2007 stay?).

From Gretchen's travel journal.

A sketch of Doug perceiving the light of hope (read: time to start our vacation) by Gretchen for her 2013 travel journal. Schaefer Studios.

Back up the hill at the Chautauqua, with the entire compound observing quiet time until 3 p.m., we settle down to some work. For Gretchen, in recent years that has involved entries in an animated digital journal, very funny, that she creates on an iPad. For me, it’s reading, preparing new material for the band or songwriting.

For dinner, we fix something light in the cottage or go to the Chautauqua Dining Hall.

And in the evening, nearly every evening, we learn a new song and review the previous nights’ work.

All in all, as I said, heaven on earth.

That first year, we picked up four or five from the Louvin Brothers’ Ira and Charlie, the LP that prompted, or at least coincided with, our decision to narrow Day for Night’s focus even tighter on country music. We drank Jack Daniels from Rose Hill Wine & Spirits, down in the quarter where the college students live. We played inexpensive Alvarez guitars rented from Woodsongs, a music store out in the mall zone.

For nonprofessionals like us, learning a song per night is a workout, but a happy one. As anyone knows who has the discipline or luxury to swim deep in the waters of their occupational calling, doing so simply feels wicked good on your brain.

And the more you do it, the better you get and the better it feels, at least up to the point where you’re doing speedballs on the tour bus.

Gretchen on the trail in a green year for Boulder.

Gretchen on the trail in a green year for Boulder. Hubley Archives.

Boulder established our practice of traveling musically, and we have done so in other destinations, including a dank mildewed rental house in Guerneville, Calif., and the aptly named Paradise Inn, in Bennington, Vt. But Boulder is always better, musically and in every other way.

Mondo mando

Our Boulder experiences continue to open doors for us as a band and as a couple. (Although I confess that I let slide the opportunity to legally score some weed last time we were there.)

In 2010, while visiting Woodsongs to transact the usual rental of two blister-raising cheap acoustics, I wandered over to a wall display of mandolins and plucked at a couple — I still remembered two or three of the four chords I’d learned back during my mando flirtation back in the 1970s.

Just how much beauty can there be, after all? Hubley Archives.

Just how much beauty can there be, after all? Hubley Archives.

I spent a few minutes at it. I was assessing mandolins. I had just gotten a raise. I felt the flush of that strange mental inflammation that comes with the knowledge that you are about to lighten your wallet.

Sure enough, after a few other errands, we doubled back to the music store and I bought a Big Muddy MW-O, a mid-priced A-body mandolin.

That pretty much set the agenda for that week’s song acquisition: the standards “I Wonder Where You Are Tonight” and “Rough and Rocky,” the Louvins’ “New Partner Waltz,”  the Carter Family’s “Bury Me Beneath the Willow.”

The Front Range, 2015. Hubley Archives.

The Front Range, 2015. Hubley Archives.

And while I’m still no Ira Louvin on the mandolin (or in any other way, for worse and for better), that instrument did renew our perspective on a musical direction.

In the interest of simplicity, overboard went all the accordion and autoharp numbers. This had the effect of focusing the repertoire both sonically and stylistically, since some of the cuts, even some very cool songs that we played well, seemed increasingly out of place as our sound got more country.

Cutting those two instruments also streamlined performances, since they were both hard to mic, and also, of course, fewer instrument changes make for a better pace.

DSCN0978

The meadow and a Flatiron from the back yard of Cottage No. 19. Hubley Archives.

So in that sense the mandolin concluded another developmental phase for our little band. We had previously realized we couldn’t be the Howling Turbines without a drummer, that bossa nova and country just don’t mix, that we had to focus tighter on country. And now, pulled by Ira and Charlie and a Missouri-made mandolin, we were about done with the gain and loss, and ready for some pure gain.

In addition to Boulder’s countless charms, I think, it’s also true that the founding impulse of the Chautauqua movement — self-elevation through a judicious harmonizing of nature, rest and mental stimulation — has played a meaningful role in Day for Night’s Boulder experiences.

In ways greater and smaller, we have always returned from Boulder a better band than when we got there.

Of course, we could also say the same about Cornish, Maine.


Hear two songs, written for Day for Night, that I completed and demo’d in Boulder:

1. You Wore It Well (Hubley) Begun in a hotel in Portsmouth, N.H., and completed in Cottage No. 19 at the Colorado Chautauqua in 2013. Now a regular part of the D4N repertoire.
2. Just a Moment in the Night (Hubley). This started out as an entirely different song that I may yet write. Completed in Cottage No. 417 at the Colorado Chautauqua in 2015, one of two originals for 2015. Two whole songs in one year! I’m a one-man Brill Building!

“You Wore It Well” and “Just a Moment in the Night” copyright © 2015 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.

 

The Flatirons, Boulder, Colo., June 2013. Schaefer Studios.

View from the Chautauqua Meadow, Boulder, Colo., June 2013. Schaefer Studios.

Notes From a Basement text copyright © 2012–15 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.

Day for Night: O Brothers, Where Are We?


(Day for Night at the Bobcat Den: video by Jeff Stanton)


Day for Night’s first gig took place in July 2007

Gretchen Schaefer poses for a cell-phone picture during Day for Night's first performance, at the Lewiston (Maine) Farmers Market in July 2007. Hubley Archives

Gretchen Schaefer poses for a picture during Day for Night’s public debut, at the Lewiston (Maine) Farmers Market in July 2007. Hubley Archives.

at a farmers market in downtown Lewiston, Maine. The market coordinator was a student at the college where I work, and I responded to her open call for musicians.

The turnout of both vendors and customers was underwhelming (another blow to the Androscoggin Valley Chamber’s delusional “It’s All Happening Here!” promotional campaign). Whatever the folks running the market may have felt about that, though, it afforded Gretchen Schaefer and me a low-pressure setting to resume performing after a three-year hiatus.

As we recall, it went pretty well. Market organizers allotted us a sunny patch of grass along the sidewalk, and we were OK with the lack of stage and amplification. Punctuating our music with changes from guitar to accordion (me) and to autoharp (Gretchen), we jittered along steadily through our two sets till late afternoon.

There were a few compliments, some kids found us briefly intriguing, most people gave us exactly the kind of non-attention we were hoping for as we rediscovered our performing reflexes.

Day for Night performs the Everly Brothers' "Price of Love" at the Bobcat Den, Bates College, on Nov. 30, 2007. Photo by H. Lincoln Benedict.

Day for Night performs the Everly Brothers’ “Price of Love” at Bates College, Nov. 30, 2007. Photo by H. Lincoln Benedict.

A low-key occasion to be sure, but nevertheless the start of Day for Night’s performing career — a career that has never been high-powered nor lucrative, nor bigger than local, but one that has over the years kept us on stage about as often as we can handle.

For Gretchen and me, the three-year interval between our last date as the electric Howling Turbines, with drummer Ken Reynolds, and our first as the acoustic Day for Night entailed adventures as diverse and gnarly as

Answering that last question was easy and hard. Easy because even in the depths of bossa nova madness in 2004–05, we knew that country music would always be Day for Night’s prime directive. Having drifted away from bossa nova, though, we next had to get serious about country, which meant figuring out just what country meant for Day for Night. That was the hard part.

Unfortunately undated but clearly showing the musical schizophrenia that I was inflicting on Day for Night, this is a list of songs that we were considering before we booted the bossa nova. Hubley Archives.

This prospect list from late 2007 shows the musical schizophrenia that I was inflicting on Day for Night. Note that the bossa nova prospects (none of which we ever tried) included sources like Graham Parker, Tom Verlaine and Elvis Costello. “Manchester Song,” by the way, finally took shape two years later as “Bittersweet.” Hubley Archives.

It was probably a little more challenging for me than for Gretchen. We were both products of New England suburbs, and likely became aware of country through more or less the same channels, I think — especially considering the splash that “country rock” made during our formative years. (Although Gretchen, growing up in Groton, Conn., with two TV channels, did not experience the same intense irradiation from syndicated country & Western music shows that we in Maine enjoyed.)

But she did grow up hearing her father and a mandolin-playing friend do Hank Williams and other country songs, mixed in with 1950s–60s pop, in parties on the boat in Long Island Sound. (Gretchen’s main guitar for many years had belonged to her father.)

Her own early playing, as a teenager with friends on acoustic guitars, explored the borderlands between country, pop and folk without worrying too much about categories.

For Gretchen, the Child Ballads — Francis Child’s compilations of British folk ballads, those blow-by-blow narratives of intense love and death — were a powerful revelation in the 1970s. Today, the kind of country that she finds most compelling follows the path from those centuries-old ballads through the Appalachians to seminal players like Ralph and Carter Stanley.

As for me, my lack of stylistic boundaries is a frequent refrain in these posts. As a teenager, I was more concerned with means than genre: More than anything, I wanted to play electric music.

This had reverberations cultural and metaphorical, as well as technical (and financial). Where Gretchen’s interest in country gravitated toward its roots in folk, mine fluttered mothlike around the neon lights, the pedal steel and Telecaster guitars, the Nudie suits and the live fast–die young lifestyle. Which seemed very romantic until all those musicians I liked died young. (And yet I still like to have bourbon handy when we play.)

Which affords a handy segue to a musician who had an important influence on my genre promiscuity — that is, he provided a broadly accepted rationale for it. Yes, in my perceived Lonely Guy™ solitude back there in the early 1970s, I was one among the millions around the world captivated by former Byrd, former Flying Burrito Brother Gram Parsons.

Gretchen Schaefer and Doug Hubley in a Day for Night publicity photo taken by the Kodak self-timer. Hubley Archives.

Gretchen Schaefer and Doug Hubley in a Day for Night publicity photo taken in 2008 by the Kodak self-timer. Hubley Archives.

His singing was touching — especially with Emmylou Harris, as we’ll never let her forget, as if she could; his tragic story was highly romantic as long as you didn’t have to deal with the lawyers afterward; and his view of music was one that I immediately adopted as my own.

While musicians have been crossing genres as long as there have been genres to cross, Parsons brought the concept back home to us hippies in the late 1960s with his notion of “Cosmic American Music” — a silly name for very appealing, and largely Southern, crossovers among country, rock and rhythm & blues.

“I just say this — it’s music,” Parsons is supposed to have said (I can’t find an attribution). “Either it’s good or it’s bad; either you like it or you don’t.”

Such thinking struck naive me like a bolt from the blue — even after growing up with groups like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones that were essentially exemplifying the same thing, only without the pedal steel or Nudie suits.

All that being said, Day for Night’s way-finding was a slow but agreeable process. In the beginning we had outstanding, if unsurprising, guides. We knew we wanted to emphasize harmony singing, and for that there were no better inspirations than the Everly Brothers and the Louvin Brothers.

WalkRightBack002

For ages we had done the Everlys’ “Cathy’s Clown (which Gretchen had loved since childhood) and “So Sad”; and the Louvins’ “You’re Running Wild” and “My Baby’s Gone.” It seemed that we could do much worse than stick with those guys as we rummaged through material. (Although we also quickly appropriated such Parsons touchstones as “Sin City,” the Burritos’ take on “Do Right Woman” and Gram and Emmy’s “Brand New Heartache” — first recorded by the Everlys.)

Coming from country music, the Everlys played rock-pop that often worked well as country (as opposed to some of their deliberate country efforts that didn’t really cut the mustard in either camp). In the short run, that was good for Day for Night. We could brandish our country identity but still, flashing our Cosmic American Music badges, keep trying to work the pop, rock and R&B in there too.

One Everly source particular made an impression: Walk Right Back, a compilation of their years with Warner Brothers. A two-CD set with an LP’s worth of good material, Walk Right Back nevertheless provided our little country band with some excellent not-quite country: Boudleaux and Felice Bryant’s gemlike “Don’t Forget to Cry,” and Don and Phil’s own “Don’t Let the Whole World Know” and “Price of Love.”

Ira&Charlie001The Louvins were tougher. As brilliant as their singing was and as strong as their material could be, they recorded enough dogs to fill a kennel. “Red Hen Hop”? “The Stagger”? I’m asking you!

We’d pick up one or two songs from each Louvin Brothers album, having sifted through the rest with gritted teeth (a mixed metaphor that actually works pretty well in this instance).

But things changed in a tectonic way during a Saturday morning drive back home to Portland from Lewiston, Maine, in October 2006. The day was coldly sunny after an evening of torrential rain. Canadian air was muscling in and the wind tossed the clouds around and tugged at the leaves that were left on the trees.

For Gretchen and me, it was a Louvin Brothers day after an evening of Maine classical music history. The night before, we’d heard a concert by 91-year-old classical pianist Frank Glazer,  marking the 70th anniversary of his New York City debut by reprising the same ambitious program he’d played at Town Hall all those years ago.

Gretchen Schaefer, smiling and strumming during one of Day for Night's first performances. The Bobcat Den, Bates College, Nov. 30, 2007. Photo by H. Lincoln Benedict.

Gretchen Schaefer, smiling and strumming during one of Day for Night’s first performances. The Bobcat Den, Bates College, Nov. 30, 2007. Photo by H. Lincoln Benedict.

The concert was inspiring. I felt some sublimal connection between Glazer’s dedication and my own persistence (which isn’t quite the same thing). The dash to the car through the deluge wasn’t inspiring, nor was our night in the dowdy motel next to the turnpike on-ramp. We were glad to head home. We listened to Ira and Charlie: The Louvin Brothers, from 1958.

And Ira and Charlie was a revelation. It was the Holy Grail and the key to the city. We liked everything we heard: Chet Atkins’ Gretschy sophistication mixed with Ira’s out-of-the-blue mandolin fills; Ira’s soaring harmonies against Charlie’s plainspoken soulfulness.

The raw emotion in songs like “Too Late,” written by cowboy star Jimmy Wakely, and “Here Today and Gone Tomorrow,” by gospel impresario (and erstwhile Georgia Clodhopper) Wally Fowler, suited us perfectly.

Driving back to Portland, we listened to the CD once and then played the whole thing again — and I never do that. Over the next year or so, Day for Night learned half the tracks on Ira and Charlie — and we still do five of them. (“I Wonder Where You Are Tonight,” “Have I Stayed Away Too Long” and”Making Believe,” in addition to “Too Late” and “Here Today.”)

Ira and Charlie turned out, over time and in a subtle way, to be a pivotal point in Day for Night’s slog toward refining its musical identify — a slog that, after all, took four more years and the addition of a mandolin to really complete. (All of which you can expect to read about, in excruciating detail, in the coming months.)

And what made that record so influential was not at all exalted or profound. It was simply the intersection of quality and quantity: After months of shopping around for material, the Ira and Charlie windfall gave us a direction and a goal.

 Doug during the Everly Brothers' "Cathy's Clown" -- the "Magic Fingers" capo gives it away -- during Day for Night's Nov. 30, 2007 show at Bates College's Bobcat Den. Photo by H. Lincoln Benedict.


Doug during the Everly Brothers’ “Cathy’s Clown” — the “Magic Fingers” capo gives it away — at Day for Night’s Nov. 30, 2007, show at Bates College’s Bobcat Den. Photo by H. Lincoln Benedict.

All we needed was the time to pursue it. And the mental space. Mental space wide open and tranquil.

Mental space like the mountain landscapes in Colorado, with the open air, the transfixing beauty and the long views that feel like freedom.

Notes From a Basement text copyright © 2012-2015 by Douglas L. Hubley.

Day for Night: Blame It on the Bossa Nova


With Willy Thurston on drums, Day for Night makes its first and last presentation of the bossa nova material, at Alden Bodwell’s house in March 2006. Photos and montage by Jeff Stanton.


How much sense does it make

for a two-piece acoustic band to base its repertoire on both American country music and bossa nova?

Holding onto the past: Five months after the end of the Howling Turbines, Gretchen and I were still trying to keep the HT repertoire alive. Hubley Archives.

Holding onto the past: Five months after the end of the Howling Turbines, Gretchen and I were still trying to keep the HT repertoire alive. Hubley Archives.

If you should reply, “Not much sense at all, Hoss,” the members of the country band Day for Night would be right there with you — now. But it took us two years of being a bossa nova–country band to figure it out.

Howling Turbines, the threesome that Gretchen Schaefer and I played in prior to D4N, was just dipping its toes into Brazil’s bossa nova when, in April 2004, drummer Ken Reynolds departed. And Ken’s departure launched Gretchen and me into a year of fumbling for direction as a two-piece.

His leaving also extended a tendency that had begun a decade previously: an acceptance of shrinkage. I’ve written previously about the comparative virtues of bigger vs. smaller bands: When two members left our band the Cowlix, back in 1994, the remaining trio — Gretchen, I and drummer Jon Nichols-Pethick — liked the resulting maneuverability so much that we never considered replacing the departed musicians.

Similarly, when Ken left, Gretchen and I didn’t even discuss seeking another drummer. In the gap between Jon and Ken, we had spotted some potential in working as a duo. After Ken, we set out to explore that potential.

Gretchen with the 2004 grape harvest. Hubley Archives.

Gretchen Schaefer with the 2004 grape harvest. Hubley Archives.

So there in 2004 we were, facing each other over the Howling Turbines songlist and trying to salvage what we could. It didn’t seem so unreasonable, given the HTs’ success as an acoustic trio. In our new and as yet unnamed configuration, Gretchen switched off between bass and acoustic guitar, and I used electric and acoustic. During the remainder of 2004, we spent more than a few evenings trying different things different ways — but it quickly became evident that most of the old stuff wouldn’t fly. A fresh approach was needed.

But two of the few songs from the HT days that did remain viable were our bossa nova numbers: the Stan Getz setting of Benny Carter and Sammy Kahn’s “Only Trust Your Heart” (unfortunately without Stan Getz) and our own arrangement of John Cale’s “(I Keep a) Close Watch.” I was still captivated by the genre and decided to work up some more.

And down the rabbit hole we went.

First off, I needed the right guitar for the job. A questionable habit that I have never broken, in both music and other aspects of life, is that I respond to times of flux or uncertainty by buying things. (Really not a helpful response when, for instance, you lose your job.)

Doug PartyMix 2004-005

In the studio on the eve of Thanksgiving, 2004, as Gretchen and I made a mixtape for a forthcoming party. Gretchen Schaefer photo.

This time our outlay was for a classical guitar, a new Manuel Rodriguez flamenco model purchased in August 2004 from a now-defunct music store on a wide and sun-drenched highway in Winthrop, Maine. (Thanks to Gretchen, the expedition included a fine picnic lunch of baked chicken, potato salad and white wine, enjoyed on the roadside next to a lake that I now cannot identify.)

Dubbed “The Palomino” by Gretchen on account of its blonde complexion, the Rodriguez had a bright and powerful sound. I adapted quickly to the different feel of wide fretboard and nylon strings (although I never did get used to an intonation problem on the D string).

So there was the guitar on which to play the bossa nova songs. The next problem was, what songs?

Gretchen Schaefer awaiting guests for our 2004 autumn party. Hubley Archives.

Gretchen Schaefer awaiting guests for our 2004 autumn party. Hubley Archives.

Supply was not the problem. As Ross Perot used to say about solutions to national problems, there are all kinds of great bossa nova songs just lying around waiting to be used. Instead, the problem — two problems — was me. First, being neither a trained musician nor intrinsically fascinated by theory, I scarcely knew any of the sophisticated chords that are used in bossa nova. “Only Trust Your Heart” was the frontier of my chordy know-how, and it had taken me quite some time to beat my way out there (a fact I should have paid attention to).

Second, I don’t speak or understand Brazilian Portuguese, which, of course, is the language that classic bossa nova songs tend to be sung in.

A partial solution to the first obstacle was to spend still more money, this time on music books that explicated complicated chords. It was like going back to 1966 and learning guitar all over again as, several times a week after dinner, I hauled out The Palomino, sat on the bed and laboriously tried to get chords into my fingers.

The venerable Silvertone in 2005, 34 years after I got it. Gretchen took this image the night before I sold the guitar to a Bates College student from Rwanda, who sent it home as a gift to her boyfriend. I wonder how it's doing.

My old friend, the venerable Silvertone, in 2005, 34 years after I got it. Gretchen took this image the night before I sold the guitar to a Bates College student from Rwanda, who sent it home as a gift to her boyfriend. I wonder how it’s doing.

I was a tourist in jazzland: I could follow a map, but didn’t really know where I was. It was yet another reminder (they just keep piling up inside the mailbox) that for all the room for spontaneity you may have as a dilettante, you lack the ultimate freedom that comes with knowing your discipline cold.

In the lyrics department, the situation was slightly more tractable. Like “Close Watch,” there were a few songs lying around, thank you Ross, that had English lyrics and would work as bossa nova. Our finest effort in this direction was a grim and, actually, rather deranged number recorded by Bing Crosby in 1933 called “I’ve Got to Pass Your House to Get to My House.” I continue to count this as one of my all-time greatest finds for cover material.

But the classic bossa nova songbook, pretty much all in Portuguese, was a heavier lift. It’s true that American lyricists, notably Normal Gimbel, had contrived English lyrics for songs like “Meditação” and “Insensatez.” But I was able to find verbatim translations of some of the original lyrics online and Gimbel’s interpretations, held up to those, just didn’t make it.

For example, Gimbel rendered Vinícius de Moraes’ “Insensatez” as “Insensitive,” in which the narrator is suffering the rejection of an icy-hearted lover. In Portuguese, “insensatez” means folly or foolishness, and in de Moraes’ lyric, the foolishness is the narrator’s adultery, which he is steeling himself to confess.

Now that’s a country song!

D4N Prospects-2004-031

No bossa nova here: These were fodder for the country us, not the bossa us. We still do eight of these songs. Hubley Archives.

Having rejected the highly esteemed professional efforts of the famous and well-paid Norman Gimbel, member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame since 1984, there was nothing for me to do but take the verbatim translations from Portuguese and try to turn them into singable lyrics myself. From 2005:

Oh, my only one
What have I done
In a man’s delusion?
Oh, this foolishness
That I confess
Will you give me absolution?

Jobim’s “Meditação” was the first Brazilian bossa nova that I adapted for Gretchen and me. It was not ready until December 2004 (I recorded a demo in early January, one of the first products of the newly revamped, bafflingly wired, and dark cold basement studio that became one focus of the energy that I had previously channeled into playing loud music).

Why return to love
To the passion that makes one from two
You said you’d had enough
But now, the moon is new
And the picture you see is so true
It’s the one you dream of

“Meditação” is the only one of the classic bossas that I can still play without prolonged puzzling over the fretboard. Its chords fall under the fingers more readily than elsewhere in the Jobim repertoire. And it may also be true that I simply played it more than any of the others, because it took me so damned long to work up the bossa material.

Which is not a problem you can hang on country music.

The Boarders: Taverna Nights

A Casco Bay Weekly listing for a Boarders gig at the Free Street Taverna, October 1995.

A Casco Bay Weekly listing for a Boarders gig at the Free Street Taverna, October 1995.

We want these archives, whether digital or physical, to point back to the very real experience we had, or, just as importantly, to give us insight into someone else’s experience. Silicon Valley tech culture expert Paul Philleo calls these mementos “anchors of memory.”

— From Our Virtual Shadow by Damon Brown

Hoist these anchors of memory and sail away on the catchy riptide of the famous Boarders!

Standing on stage at the Free Street Taverna,

you faced a long, narrow room that had a single window and was therefore dim much of the time. The bar was on the left. There was a video gambling
gizmo on the bar and dollar bills stapled to the ceiling joists.

At your back was the window, a big one, and beyond that the sidewalk. To your left, a vestibule enclosed the street door and stairs up to the restaurant. The vestibule was close enough to the stage that anyone who entered or left had to crowd past a PA speaker, and sent cold drafts across the stage in winter.

The Boarders in a 1994 publicity image by Jeff Stanton. From left: Gretchen Schaefer, Jonathan Nichols-Pethick, Doug Hubley. Hubley Archives.

The Boarders in a 1994 publicity image by Jeff Stanton. From left: Gretchen Schaefer, Jonathan Nichols-Pethick, Doug Hubley. Hubley Archives.

Bassist Gretchen Schaefer occupied the left side of the stage. Drummer Jonathan Nichols-Pethick set up in the center. I was at stage right. This was the mid-1990s in Portland, Maine, and we were the Boarders.

The space was intimate. I remember the faces of friends who frequently came to hear the Boarders at the Taverna: Jeff Stanton and Alden Bodwell, who helped with load-in and setup; Barbie Weed and Tracey Mousseau; former bandmates Ken Reynolds and Steve Chapman, and Steve’s wife, Jeri Chapman.

Three musicians and a marketing concept. Jeff Stanton photo.

Three musicians and a marketing concept. Jeff Stanton photo.

Sometimes the nights were long and I could see our friends propping themselves up above the rising waters of fatigue. We were into our 40s.

We didn’t play the Taverna till the Boarders were a few months along. Instead, our formal debut was outdoors at the Congress Square Festival on a brutally windy Saturday in September 1994. (That June, with Gretchen away visiting family, Jonathan and I did a couple of songs as the Boarders at Brian Ború when Jonathan’s friend Steve Gerlach invited us to share his stage time. On the sunny deck, I played acoustic guitar and Jon thumped a green suitcase.)

But virtually every other Boarders gig took place at the Taverna, located at 128 Free St.

Our poster for that October 1995 Taverna date. The third image from the top shows the fence at Gretchen's and my house after a motorist flattened it. I propped it back up and the insurance money paid for a trip to Montreal. Hubley Archives.

Our poster for that October 1995 Taverna date. The second image from the top shows the fence at Gretchen’s and my house after a motorist flattened it. I propped it back up and the insurance money paid for a trip to Montreal (top). Hubley Archives.

A restaurant as well as bar, the Taverna was a happening place in those early days of the “Portland Arts District” — a concept that I mocked at the time but that now seems to have taken hold.

Taverna proprietor Peter Kostopoulos had the Arts District spirit. He booked adventurous bands, hung local artwork on the brick walls and presented bohemian activities like poetry nights. (We still recall an earnest young blonde from Texas who read poems about wolves and about being naked, pronounced “woofs” and “nekkid.”) It was a scene, man!

The Kostopoulos family had once run the Zapion Taverna, a Greek restaurant on Congress Street, and still run the Good Table in Cape Elizabeth. There were Greek dishes on the Free Street Taverna menu.

The Taverna building belonged to the family. From 1968 until 1974, Peter’s parents, Tony and Sylvia, had International Cargo there, a sort of proto-Pier 1. It was previously the site of a tailor shop owned by Sylvia’s father. In those days, Victor Kahill, who sculpted the Maine Lobsterman statue, had his studio upstairs. The clock from the tailor shop now hangs at the Good Table.

A Gretchen Schaefer illustration for Maine Times' A&E section. Hubley Archives.

A Gretchen Schaefer illustration for the Maine Times A&E section. The Mayans appeared frequently. Hubley Archives.

Peter was a good boss. We got a cut of the bar, which never made us rich because we weren’t a huge draw, but at least it acknowledged the notion, which now seems rather quaint, that musicians should be paid for their work. And Peter kept bringing us back every three or four months despite the smallness of our following.

What a time that was. Against all evidence, I remain convinced of my coolness and cutting-edginess, but I really had it bad back then. During the Boarders’ first year, I was features editor at Maine Times — running out of steam by the time I got there, but still wielding its prestige, and frequently its value, as Maine’s first and foremost alternative newsweekly.

Maine Times editor Peter Cox gave me extraordinary latitude, as long as I made sure to include garden tours in the event listings. It was the best job I ever had. (An added perk was that I got to hire Gretchen as an illustrator for my pages, gratifying for both of us.)

A display ad in Face magazine for a June 1995 date at the Taverna. Hubley Archives.

A display ad in Face magazine for a June 1995 date at the Taverna. Hubley Archives.

The Boarders were demonstrably cool. Solid original material, well-chosen covers, attractive mix of musical styles, cathartic and funny performances. It was one of those rare periods in life when our endeavors and the circumstances sang in harmony: a band in its sweet spot, a certified hip-and-cool nightspot willing to book us, a burgeoning local arts and music scene.

The logical question at this point is, of course, what could possibly go wrong? Surprisingly, at least as far as the Boarders were concerned, not much did. I only have one regret on that score: that I never recorded our live shows.

That lapse resulted from my proclivity to hole up mentally. Despite my reflexive self-image of being a bold thinker, in the real world I realize that I don’t tend to think outside the box. Moreover, I don’t push the envelope because how would that work, anyway? And I don’t leave my comfort zone because — guess what? — it makes me uncomfortable.

I tend to perceive obstacles more than opportunities. I see myself being boxed in by circumstances and restrained from acting, but the truth is that my thinking gets boxed in by habit, laziness, fear, or lack of curiosity or imagination.

Boarders bassist Gretchen Schaefer. Jeff Stanton photo.

Boarders bassist Gretchen Schaefer. Jeff Stanton photo.

So what does this unfortunate mindset have to do with performance recordings, which I had made routinely for years prior to the Boarders? In late 1994, I began recording band rehearsals on a four-track machine in place of a two-track. That was fairly complicated (probably twice as complicated as the two-track) but manageable in a basement.

However, I believed it would not be so manageable in the performance environment. It never occurred to me that I could bring the four-track to a gig but use only two tracks, as I had done for years when I had only two-track machines to work with.

This bright idea, by the way, has occurred to me only now, 20 years too late.

In short, there were expeditious ways to get the job done. I just couldn’t see them.

A Taverna setlist in Gretchen's handwriting. Hubley Archives.

Setlists in Gretchen’s handwriting for holiday gigs at the Taverna and a Rotary Club seniors event at the Purpoodock Club. Hubley Archives.

So what was lost? Every Boarders performance save for our January 1996 live show on Portland radio station WMPG-FM, which the station recorded (badly, omitting the bass almost completely).

What was lost? It’s not like our music is irretrievably vanished. I have plenty of rehearsal recordings by the band. But I would love to hear the actual performances on those Taverna nights.

The music with its highs and lows, the way the songs coalesced (or didn’t) into sets, the random details: song intros, jokes on stage and remarks to our friends in the audience, greetings to new arrivals, the guitars being tuned and racket from the bar.

More than anything, it’s those details that create the illusion that the moment lives again, poised to be relived by the people who were there all those years ago.

Of course, the grand subtext of these memoirs is the relationship among experience, memory and document. As I stated in a 2012 post, for me the documents promise to be a supplement and stimulant to memory — but the promise is sometimes broken, as the documents mislead, confuse or simply don’t exist for the memories I hope to recover.

The existential angst of being the Boarders. Jeff Stanton photo.

The existential angst of being the Boarders. Jeff Stanton photo.

I spent much of that November 2012 post exploring the relationship among experiences, memories and physical proxies thereof. I asked a lot of good questions and produced few good answers. In the year and a half since then, having cleaned out my parents’ house and seen how masses of stuff definitely do not translate into a lifetime of memories, I am more in the dark about this issue than ever.

Maybe an experience is like the big love of your life: You don’t perceive half of what’s happening around you, but the impression feels complete, a world unto itself. And then a memory is like that relationship when your lover is gone. And then a document is just the rebound affair, something to see and touch while you try to get back to the real thing, which of course you’ll never do.


Clips-Monahan-695001

A concise Boarders history lesson thanks to Portland Press Herald columnist Ben Monaghan. Hubley Archives

Hear a collection of Boarders rehearsal recordings from 1994-95.

Tragedy (J. Nichols-PethickN. Nichols-PethickHubley) Drummer Jon Nichols-Pethick had previously contributed “All Over” to the Cowlix. His ironic awareness of the details of romantic tension suited the repertoires of that band and even more, the Boarders. He wrote this song with his wife, Nancy, and I added the signature riff and a few lyrics. (But dropped a few lyrics in this rehearsal performance from Dec. 5, 1995: “You say, ‘I need another drink.'”) Note the tribute to “Hill Street Blues” at the end. “Tragedy” copyright © 1995 by Jonathan Nichols-Pethick, Nancy Nichols-Pethick and Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.

Trouble Train (Hubley) There was a sign by the Androscoggin River in Topsham, Maine, warning that operations at the nearby hydroelectric dam could cause the water to rise suddenly. That sign inspired this song, which is less a train song than a collection of metaphors for trouble. This was one of two songs I wrote for the Cowlix; the Boarders’ more ominous treatment befits the theme. “Trouble Train” copyright © 1994 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.

All Over (Nichols-Pethick–Hubley) Written by Jon Nichols-Pethick with some tweaks from me, this is a classic country weeper with a great beat. Jonathan actually was inspired to write the song as he gazed at the bottom of a beer glass. Originating with the Cowlix, it later turned up in the repertoire of Scott Link’s band Diesel Doug & the Long-Haul Truckers, appearing on their first CD in a contrasting interpretation. A rehearsal recording from Oct. 15, 1995. “All Over” copyright © 1992 by Jonathan Nichols-Pethick and Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.

Our rehearsal guide to the dynamics of the French Resistance anthem "The Partisan."

Our rehearsal guide to the dynamics of the French Resistance anthem “The Partisan.”

Why This Passion (Hubley) A wordy attempt to trace the course of a lovers’ quarrel, this high-romantic epic started out with the Chapman-Torraca Fashion Jungle in an arrangement much too elaborate. Once we reformed the FJ with bassist Dan Knight, I reset “Passion” to a straight beat with the guitar riff heard here. But this version is a further evolution, developed with the Boarders under the influence of Three Mustaphas Three. Drummer Jon Nichols-Pethick plays what we called the “camel beat” and my guitar solo pays homage to Middle Eastern pop radio (as I imagined it). An over-processed rehearsal recording from April 1996. “Why This Passion” copyright © 2010 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.

1,000 Pounds of Rain (Hubley) The Boarders in a December 1995 rehearsal recording of a desperate cry of the middle-aged heart, written in spring 1994. Notice the gains in ensemble and intensity over the 1994 version on The Boarders, All Keyed Up. The title came from a Drydock gig for which we were made to carry our equipment up a fire escape in the pouring rain. I liked the title, but it took me four years to figure out what the song should be about. One of the first songs the Boarders learned, it stayed on the playlist all the way through the Howling Turbines. “1,000 Pounds of Rain” copyright © 1995 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.

Notes From a Basement text copyright © 2012–14 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.

 

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.

Other Voices: The Fashion Jungle, 40 Years Later

The Fashion Jungle at Geno’s, 1984. From left: bassist Steve Chapman, keyboardist Kathren Torraca, drummer Ken Reynolds, guitarist Doug Hubley. (Jeff Stanton photo)
  • A complete listing of Notes from a Basement posts and Bandcamp albums relating to the Fashion Jungle appears at the end of this post.

“It’s hard to believe it has been 40 years,” says Mike Piscopo — 40 years since the emergence of the Fashion Jungle, a rock band that he, Ken Reynolds, Jim Sullivan and I created.

Evolving over nine years from that original quartet to trio, quartet, quintet and trio again, the FJ remains an emotional landmark for many who were involved in it.

In a 1981 FJ publicity shot that never saw the light of day, Mike Piscopo is standing at center. Ken Reynolds is at left and Jim Sullivan at right, and I’m in the hoodie. (Minolta self-timer photo)

For me, the FJ was like graduation, as we sloughed off our covers-band identity as The Mirrors and focused, instead, on original songs rooted in personal experience and delivered with all the ardor we could muster.

“The FJ opened my eyes to the possibility that instead of just being a technician copying things, you could actually invent music with nothing limiting it but imagination,” says multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Jim Sullivan.

The 1984 Fashion Jungle on the cover of the Rolling Stone — er, Sweet Potato. (Courtesy of Rhonda Farnham Photography)

The 1980s rock press in Portland, Maine, were fans. The music magazine Sweet Potato put us on the cover three times and reviewed our shows. According to SP writers Seth Berner and Will Jackson, respectively, we were Maine’s “best ‘new wave’ songsters,” offering “[p]otent, provocative, inventive originals played with precision and intensity.”

For me and for others involved with the band, the FJ years stand out as personally transformational. “I loved it,” says Gretchen Schaefer, who applied her talents in visual art to FJ projects and didn’t shy away from carrying amps. The excitement wasn’t totally about the music (or the fact that, even as the FJ was becoming a thing, she and I were building a relationship that’s still going strong). In some ways, the FJ was providing the soundtrack for myriad life changes within our circle.

In Gretchen’s case, she says, “I was taking myself more seriously as an artist at that time — it was the beginning of that for me. I finally was out of an extended adolescence and I felt like an adult with some agency in my life. I was doing things that young adults do, instead of just dubbing around as a student.”


I realized early in 2021

that the 40th anniversary of the Fashion Jungle would arrive this summer, as Mike, Jim, Ken and I had settled on the FJ moniker in June 1981. And that anniversary is the perfect opportunity for a long-overdue departure from the solitary musings that typically constitute Notes from a Basement.

Here’s the set list from the Kayo’s gig on Oct. 6, 1981. It was the last performance by the original FJ. Gretchen Schaefer, now my partner in life and music, was in the audience at my invitation. We scarcely knew each other.

So, four decades after it all began, it’s a genuine pleasure to present a Fashion Jungle retrospective in the words of the people — other than me — who played in the band or supported the musicians through the occasional thick and the frequent episodes of thin. (Constitutionally unable to butt out, I do offer a few notes in italic type for clarity and continuity.) Read on to hear from:

  • Ken Reynolds and Mike Piscopo, with whom I first played in the Curley Howard Band in the late 1970s;
  • Jim Sullivan, who joined us in The Mirrors;
  • Steve Chapman, who played with Ken and me in the band’s most enduring lineups;
  • Kathren Torraca, whose youthful spark and keyboard work defined the best-known FJ lineup;
  • Dan Knight, who helped fill a gap in the band’s eight years of being;
  • and from Gretchen Schaefer and fellow roadie Jeff Stanton, whose photos have documented the adventures of the FJ and many of the bands that followed.

Ken Reynolds, take it away!

Ken Reynolds during a 1985 Fashion Jungle performance at Geno’s, on Brown Street in Portland, Maine. (Jeff Stanton photo)

Ken Reynolds: Drums, vocals, lyrics

Curley Howard Band (1977–78) / The Mirrors (1979–81) / The Fashion Jungle (1981–89) / The Cowlix (1989–91) / Howling Turbines (1997–2004)

Ken and I met in 1975 as employees of the Jordan Marsh department store in South Portland, Maine. Our musical interests were quite disparate, but our senses of humor meshed — and we were both itching to escape our respective lonely basements and make music with other humans. Ken’s drive and imagination on the drums became defining elements of the FJ sound.

Ken says: The tasks of a band member are many, whether it’s working on a musical idea for a song, the constant reworking and formation of a nearly completed song or, even better, working on a set list for a gig. But the creating of a song, a sound or a style, lyrically and musically, is a collective joy and fulfillment that aspiring musicians hope to achieve.

I think I can speak for all members of the Fashion Jungle: We experienced all this.

Here’s an example. In 1983, I couldn’t rehearse for several weeks due to a mishap I suffered at a company barbecue in Westbrook. I was playing a game of pepper — a warmup exercise where a batter hits a softball back to a gloved fielder in rapid succession. The batter, my boss, was a little too enthusiastic — he got aggressive with his swings and swatted a ball back to me that hit my gloved hand and fractured my thumb.

Taken c. 1987 in Steve Chapman’s cellar, this Fashion Jungle publicity shot presents, from left, Steve, Doug and Ken. (Self-timer photo)

I needed surgery and was out of commission for a month. The Fashion Jungle continued to meet weekly and started working on new material. The song being developed was Doug’s “Nothing To Say.” When I finally returned, the band had a basic structure for it in place. Doug and Steve played the song for me a couple of times and I started to get ideas for a beat. What was amazing was how quickly it coalesced into one of the best songs in the band’s repertoire and became a staple in our set list.

Those years together were some of the happiest in my life. I was working two part-time jobs, studying to complete a four-year college degree, having a steady supportive girlfriend, practicing and playing gigs around town. I was extremely busy and every day my schedule was different. Never the rote routine. The sense of purpose was gratifying and exciting!

My favorite FJ gig was at Zootz when we supplemented my drumming with a drum machine on a few songs. Steve, Doug and I successfully streamlined our music to connect the songs together, making ourselves sound more professional while adding a certain stage persona. It felt like we were creating a show and not just playing a regular gig. I think it was our best-received performance by fans and critics alike. [The show was “Dance Alert II,” a November 1987 benefit for Salvadoran refugees.]

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

Other memories include recording the Six Songs cassette. We all felt pressure to record and distribute some of our original music. It was a hastily completed project, lasting about a day and a half. We each chipped in some dough to book the session. The atmosphere at the studio, the Outlook in Bethel, Maine, was very relaxed and ownership was very cooperative about working with us and suggesting ideas. All in all, a fun experience (despite the high-carb meals that were provided during our overnight stay. :))

I always enjoyed opening for the Boston-based alternative bands that performed at Kayo’s. They were always friendly and genuinely offered their perspectives on the music scene in general and their support for us. Two bands in particular were Arms Akimbo and Zodio Doze — their members were very affable as they discussed the vibrant Boston scene and the best bands there.

Some of my favorite FJ songs, in no particular order, were:
Nothing to Say” • “Phony English Accent” • “The End of the Affair” • “Little Cries” • “Final Words” • “Curious Attraction” • “Keep On Smiling


Mike Piscopo: Guitar, bass, organ, vocals, songwriting

Curley Howard Band (1977–78) / The Mirrors (1979–81) / The Fashion Jungle (1981)

Mike Piscopo is the bassist in this 1981 Fashion Jungle performance at Kayo’s, Portland, Maine. Also shown, from left: Doug Hubley, Ken Reynolds, Jim Sullivan. (Jeff Stanton photo)

I knew Mike from “The Corner” — a convenience store in South Portland, Maine, called Patty Ann’s Superette. It was a busy social scene that spanned a wide age range. I’d been hanging around for years as a friend of the proprietors, the Stantons, and Mike was friends with Jeff Stanton’s youngest brother, Philip. Ken and I were looking for additional musicians, and Mike was learning guitar. Our first session consisted of two hours of “Green Onions.” The three of us plus bassist Andy Ingalls became the Curley Howard Band. Later, for The Mirrors, Mike added bass and organ to his portfolio. He moved to Texas in 1981.

Mike says: I don’t think the Fashion Jungle changed me personally, but I believe the structure we had — multiple instruments, vocals, etc. — really helped me musically. I was able to use that experience in a couple of bands I played with here in Texas.

A mentor to his brother Gary and the rest of the Pathetix, Mike Piscopo often performed with them. Here he sings “Sweet Jane” at a dance party in South Portland in 1981. (Doug Hubley photo)

And I enjoyed all the songs (or the ones I remember). I take great pride in playing them to my kids — all grown and accomplished musicians in their own form.

What does the band and that time of life represent to me now? Fond memories (although I really have to emphasize that the Curley Howard Band memories are my favorites!) Overall, I always felt the band was a tight-knit group of folks, probably because of the core history we had together. My favorite FJ gigs were the ones at Kayo’s — we were really tight [Sept. 16 and Oct. 6, 1981].

Overall, there is a special place in my mind for the time we spent making music — Curley Howard, The Mirrors, Karl Rossmann [the late-stage Mirrors], Fashion Jungle. Also, the friendships we had and still have, I believe, are priceless.


Jim Sullivan: Violin, guitar, bass, tenor sax, organ, vocals, songwriting

The Mirrors (1979–81) / The Fashion Jungle (1981–82)

Shown playing sax at a Fashion Jungle gig at Kayo’s in 1981, Jim Sullivan also brought skills on keyboard, violin, guitar and bass to the FJ and its predecessor band, The Mirrors. (Jeff Stanton photo)

The Curley Howard Band became The Mirrors with the departure of bassist Andy Ingalls and arrival of singer Christine Hanson. In response to an ad, Jim Sullivan joined us in early 1979 and turned out to be stunningly versatile — a good singer and songwriter, and an instrumentalist whose range encompassed fiddle, guitar, bass, keys and ultimately, tenor sax. Jim also brought professional savvy, which we sorely needed as a local agent heaped work on us, and a wicked sense of humor. Today Jim plays and writes music in The Barnyard Incident, an Americana band in Bethlehem, N.H.

Jim says: A bandmate during my time on the Boston Irish/Celtic circuit in the ’90s once said there are two types of bands: practicing bands and performing bands.

It was the transition from The Mirrors to the Fashion Jungle that gave me my first hint of that: Even though The Mirrors did perform songs we all liked, it seemed, in a way, more like a group of musicians taking turns in the spotlight than a cohesive unit.

The front line of the original Fashion Jungle during a 1981 performance at Kayo’s, Portland, Maine. From left: Doug Hubley, Jim Sullivan, Mike Piscopo. (Jeff Stanton photo)

The FJ, though, was the actualization of one musical trend of The Mirrors [punk and New Wave]. This focus seemed to gel more as a performing band, with everyone pulling the cart in the same direction. That did not mean we stayed in a box — just that one song had some thematic connection to the last, and led to some justified expectation for the next, giving the band its “sound.”

In addition, the FJ opened my eyes to the possibility that instead of just being a technician copying things, you could actually invent music with nothing limiting it but imagination. And I discovered at that time that I could stretch beyond stringed instruments, both banging out some tunes on the Farfisa rock organ, and taking up tenor sax and continuing to dabble in it for a couple more years. (But let’s face it: There’s something wrong with any instrument that needs a “spit valve”!)

Looking back at my all-too-short stint with the FJ (and with The Mirrors), as with all the bands of various genres I have been in, I am forever grateful that I was exposed to so much great music I might never have run into otherwise. I also took away from that era the importance of recording, both to capture a moment in time and to listen to and improve on my own playing.

On the originals front, one FJ song still on regular rotation in my mental spinning wheel is “Keep On Smiling,” mostly because of its sheer sonic power, and because I’m always easily seduced by organs of all types, from pipe to Hammond B3 to Farfisa.


Steve Chapman: Bass, guitar, vocals, songwriting

The Fashion Jungle (1981–85, 1987–89) / The Cowlix (1989)

Fashion Jungle guitarist Doug Hubley, left, and bassist Steve Chapman — possibly at Jim’s Neighborhood Café in 1982 or ’83. (Jeff Stanton photo)

Steve joined the FJ in autumn 1981, as Mike departed for Texas and Jim moved to Boston to attend school. Steve brought a musical sophistication that, in his bass work, was key to our ability to succeed as a trio; and that in his songwriting, simply provided the FJ with some of its very best material.

Steve says: The Fashion Jungle is still a part of me after all this time and is the band I identify with the most. The other (10-plus) bands are pretty distant memories at this point, even those I was in after the FJ.

I’ve got to say that I quite enjoyed playing Geno’s, even though it was such a pit in those days — it was also a bonafide New Wave venue. Probably a bit like The Cavern Club, although I don’t think they had the same activities in the ladies room that Geno’s had.

Bassist Steve Chapman listens to a playback during the Fashion Jungle’s January 1984 recording sessions at the Outlook. (Gretchen Schaefer photo.)

Maybe my favorite FJ gig of all was the Maine Festival in Brunswick [in 1984. Steve, Ken and I also played the Portland edition in 1988]. That felt fairly significant. Another would be the Portland Expo concert where we hit the big time. I can still see David Minehan of The Neighborhoods slinking around in his trench coat waiting to go on — never letting anyone catch his eye. They were pretty good but we were better, in my humble opinion. [“Going To A Go Go,” Oct. 16, 1982. Also on the bill were The Pathetix, with Mike Piscopo’s brother Gary and future FJ keyboardist Kathren Torraca.]

I always felt our material was pretty strong and for the most part well-crafted. There were a few songs that we never came up with good arrangements for, but there was always an interesting nugget there. As for favorites, I could name any number of them (“Shortwave Radio,” “Entertainer,” “Groping for the Perfect Song,” “Curious Attraction,” “Nothing to Say,” “Peacetime Hero,” “Don’t Sell The Condo.”)

We had a lot of songs. Some of my favorites to play were “Breaker’s Remorse,” “Je t’aime” and, believe it or not, “Dumb Models.” We got bored with it, but it was about as heavy as it gets. We also had a nice selection of covers. I always liked playing Leonard Cohen’s “First We Take Manhattan.”

The FJ made me a much better bass player as time went by. I wasn’t doing much when we first got together and the band exposed me to a lot of music that I hadn’t been paying much attention to. It was a real period of growth for me as a musician.


Kathren Torraca: Keyboards

The Fashion Jungle (1983–85)

Ken and Kathren, at right, during the recording of Six Songs at the Outlook in Bethel, Maine. (Gretchen Schaefer photo)

With keyboardist Kat making it a quartet, the band reached a pinnacle of sonic richness — and local recognition — in 1983–84. Her synth textures and colors had a dramatic effect on the FJ, both expanding the types of material we could pull off and, perhaps more importantly, bringing the romanticism in our music fully to the fore. A teenager when she first joined us, Kat was also the best kind of smart aleck.

Kathren Torraca designed and printed this line of FJ T-shirts in 1981.

Kat says: I’m not sure that my time with the Fashion Jungle changed me, but it was one of the most fun periods of time that I look back upon. I was always a bit nervous before each gig but at the end, it felt great — no matter how it went! I loved our energy and watching the dance floor fill over the course of the night — most nights….

I was so young! It was a time of learning, maturing, exploring and lots of really great fun. Looking back, I was very excited, and lucky really, to be playing with such talented friends and getting those experiences — practices, recording, gigs, pre-gig prep and post-gig–high hanging out. And the opportunities to meet and work with other talented local musicians, and to have been an active part of the music scene in 1980s Portland.

I remember audiences singing our original songs. No particular gig stands out in detail for me, but there are a couple that I remember more than others. There was one at Kayo’s — the feeling I took from it is of a particularly packed audience and great dancing. And there were many nights at Geno’s where we had good audiences and lots of energy.

I remember going out for breakfast after gigs, practicing in Ben and Hattie Hubley’s basement, and watching you all drink Black Velvet. And Alden and his van, being on the cover of Sweet Potato and printing FJ T-shirts in my basement. [Kathren designed an early FJ shirt that featured a leg in camouflage hose wearing a bright red stiletto heel.]


Dan Knight: Bass, vocals, songwriting

The Fashion Jungle (1985)

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

After one last Geno’s show in Dec. 1984 — which I don’t recall at all — the Chapman-Torraca edition of the FJ, sometimes also featuring Jim Sullivan, continued to rehearse into early 1985. And then we were done, as Steve, like Jim before him, had moved to Boston, where he was studying software coding and had met his wife-to-be, Jeri Kane. But Ken and I were still game, and placed an ad in the Sweet Potato for musicians. We heard from, and hired, one: bassist Dan Knight. And by July the FJ was back in business, at least for another six months.

Dan says: In the mid-’80s, after three years of alleged study up north at the University of Maine, I’d had enough of playing music in dorm rooms and left school for the big city — Portland.
 
I originally hooked up with a psychedelic garage band centered around the Geno’s scene when it was in its original location, on Brown Street.  I got a job driving a school van and discovered that I had a not-necessarily-healthy fondness for the British-style ale being served at the old Three Dollar Dewey’s. The psych band didn’t last long — and it was right about then that I had the obligatory hopeless romance, resulting in a broken heart that I nursed for years. Good Times.
 
I’d heard the name Fashion Jungle around town.  They were of a previous generation when the place for cool bands was the original Downtown Lounge — and the Portland waterfront was still dangerous. I saw their ad for a bass player in the Sweet Potato, another relic of that era. It was the local music paper and everybody read it.
 

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 Portland’s Washington Avenue that was our clubhouse for five months. This image was taken on our last night there. 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. (Minolta self-timer photo)


Whatever the Fashion Jungle’s past incarnations, at that moment it was now basically down to two, Ken and Doug.  They gave me a cassette tape of their original material. I heard echoes of Talking Heads and Elvis Costello, but the Fashion Jungle was definitely its own thing. I played along with the tape as best I could, tried to get the gist, and then had an audition. I apparently passed.
 
The original songs were genuinely unique and the covers were unusual, including Frank Sinatra and Johnny Cash.  Rock bands weren’t doing that at the time. We even learned some Motown songs to play at a wedding. I believe my run in the Jungle lasted only six months.

I went back to school, finishing up at the University of Southern Maine. I still play music and, sometimes on a rainy day, still nurse that broken heart.


Gretchen Schaefer: Road manager, staff artist

The Fashion Jungle (1981–89) /  As guitarist, bassist, singer: The Cowlix (1989–94) / The Boarders (1994–96) / Howling Turbines (1997–2004) / Day for Night (2007–)

Gretchen Schaefer with George and Claudine in 2002. (Doug Hubley photo)


Gretchen and I met in a philosophy of art class at the University of Southern Maine in autumn 1981, at the time the original FJ quartet was coming apart. (So the FJ’s is not the only 40th anniversary worth celebrating in 2021.)

As our relationship grew, she became integral to the band as a roadie and contributing artist for FJ promotional efforts. In the FJ’s final months, we decided to open for ourselves under a different name and play classic country and rock, and Gretchen joined us on stage playing rhythm guitar. She and I have made music together ever since.

Gretchen says: The first gig I saw the Fashion Jungle play was at Kayo’s [Oct. 6, 1981], and I remember just being really impressed with the band. I didn’t really know you at the time, and people talk a lot of crap, so I did not have high expectations at all — I was basically thinking it was going to be terrible.

 

Gretchen Schaefer on New Year’s Eve, 1981, Parson Smith House, Windham, Maine. (Doug Hubley photo)


 

I was so surprised at how put together the band was, how professional it seemed, just how well-rehearsed and smooth your sound was. It was a thing — you really projected an image and a sound that was cohesive, and I found that very impressive.

The other thing that struck me was that you all could play on different instruments with some fluidity and authority. It never had occurred to me that people would be able to do that. I always figured in a band, everybody had their one instrument and that’s what they would play.

The original group seemed like this crazy mashup, but it all cohered. It seemed — not really circusy, but really exciting and kind of wild. That changed when it was just you and Ken and Steve. That was a whole different iteration of the band. I was around more for that, to see it shaping and building up, but it seemed more serious in a way than those early gigs.

 

Gretchen Schaefer was the photographer for a 1984 publicity shoot that produced this iconic Fashion Jungle image.


 

With the Fashion Jungle, I was an observer mostly. I had a privileged position in that I was very close to the band, I was at a lot of rehearsals, recording sessions and gigs.

I loved it. It was exciting. I’d never been close to a band before — a real band that performed out. Just observing how bands acted and interacted with one another, and how it all came together and how gigs were gotten and played. And bands were such a big part of what we were all thinking about growing up.

Being able to do some of the artwork was something I really liked. It allowed me to participate in my own artistic way. I was trying to respond to the band, to take in your ideas and meld them with my own vision. I like that commission process a lot, assembling ideas together into a coherent whole. [An established mosaic artist now, doing business as Great Blue Mosaic, Gretchen designed posters, T-shirts and the cover image for the Six Songs audiocassette.]

 

A poster by Gretchen Schaefer for a 1987 FJ gig at the Tree Café.

That time of life seemed like the culmination of my youth. I’d had a lot of different experiences before that, but it seemed like a high point of the young part of my life, not only our relationship building but just being part of that milieu.

So many of the gigs blend together — all those gigs at Geno’s where I was tending the door with Alden. [Alden Bodwell had been a roadie and friend since the Curley Howard days. He passed away in December 2019.] There were certain fans that I would see at every gig. That little blonde skateboard girl — she looked too young to be there, for sure. She’d have a skateboard with her, she clearly was out of bounds, but she came to so many gigs.

Then there was that tall guy with the bushy, sandy hair who danced. A really bouncy dancer. And people like Seth Berner, Will Jackson, you would just see a lot at the gigs, they really liked the FJ.

Geno’s was gritty, like totally gritty. Then the Marble Bar was less gritty. The 1984 Maine Festival was the cool pinnacle, and Zootz seemed like this New York, groovy vibe, which was fun.

It was interesting to hear those same songs over and over at different gigs, and how they would change. They’d be faster or slower, the mood often would change with how you would emphasize the lyrics. It was interesting to me to hear that because I had not heard performances repeatedly like that.

 

Three gigs within a month or two was a big deal for us. To commemorate such a frantic occurrence in 1987, Gretchen Schafer designed this T-shirt map depicting the venues in Portland, Maine, that hired us: Zootz, the Tree and the Marble Bar.

Shortwave Radio” was always very striking to me. It’s a really percussive song, and I thought that was interesting. That was probably a huge standout for me. “Je t’aime” is a great song, so sophisticated. Those Ken songs, like “Dumb Models” — I thought that was so funny. It was so apropos, and it was such an unapologetically boy view of things. The stripper song, “Entertainer.”

I always liked the postmortem after the gigs. We’d bring the equipment back, and there’d always be that little period of just hanging around for a few minutes, talking it over in the dark. It would be late at night. There was always the rating system: Ken would say, “Well, how do you think it went?” It was a scale of 1 to 10. Everybody would have to give their number.

And the whole divvying up of the money after a gig. Alden would always want to refuse his share, and you’d all have to force him to take some.

The Fashion Jungle as a band changed so much over time. It was interesting to see the rotating personnel piece of it. It had never occurred to me that there would be this changing cast of characters, and that somebody would continue to try to put it together again — “Are we going to actually try to replace that person? Are we just going to function as we are?” — and how that drove the music and how you presented yourselves.

 

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 Thompson for a Portland Press Herald advance a few weeks earlier, I felt entitled to corner him backstage and force an FJ tape on him. (Doug Hubley photo)


 

Reading about other bands afterward, it made a lot more sense to me, having seen it firsthand, how difficult it is to keep a group of people all going in the same direction for very long, especially people at a really volatile time of life. You were all in that young adult time, where people were making pretty big life decisions that affected the band.


 

Jeff Stanton: Road manager, staff photographer-videographer

The Fashion Jungle (1981–89) / The Cowlix (1989–94) / The Boarders (1994–96) / Howling Turbines (1997–2004) / Day for Night (2007–)

 

Jeff Stanton is ready to shoot during Corner Night 1981, held in August at Rock ’n’ Roll Flavor. (Doug Hubley photo)


 

Living and working at Patty Ann’s Superette, Jeff and his siblings attracted friends of diverse ages to the Stanton family’s variety store. The roots of several bands, including the FJ, were set deep in this fertile social scene, which produced the Curley Howard Band and its successors, as well as the Pathetix and the Foreign Students. Featuring the latter two bands and the Mirrors (1980) and the FJ (1981), “Corner Night” concerts paid tribute to this South Portland phenomenon. Jeff has amassed an important photographic record of these bands, their descendants and their times.

Jeff says: In connecting with friends of my siblings in the neighborhood, I was, I guess, an observer or a witness to several individuals’ musical development. I would go back as far as Truck Farm — you and John Rolfe and Tom Hansen. That was the seeds in the soil there. Things were germinating then. [Truck Farm, 1971–72, was my first performing band, another decadal milestone for 2021. John Rolfe went on to form the Foreign Students and The Luxembourgs.] I even remember it when I was away at school — the people who played guitar and how others would gather around.

One of the things that I really appreciate about the whole experience was the social connections I made. It was good for me. The bonds that were created then, they’ve endured. We’ve grown as friends.

 

The Corner in its heyday: Patty Ann’s Superette, summer 1980. (The bicycle at center marks the spot where a bench used to be. One evening in 1975 I sat on the bench for a while playing guitar. Then I put the guitar in its case, leaned it against the building and walked around the corner of the building. At that instant an out-of-control car slammed into the bench and wall. I don’t recall what happened to the driver, but the guitar was fine.) (Doug Hubley photo)


 

And being part of that creative enterprise was cool. That goes back to that whole Corner experience, where there was a whole nexus, network, of activity, and people coming and going. It made my social interaction very easy, because I didn’t have to get outside myself — everybody was coming there, for whatever reason. It was a neighborhood vortex. That circle of interaction and creative expression was very satisfying.

I did make some effort to document visually, in photographs, what was happening. And then not being a musical participant, I wanted to contribute some way, so being able to lug equipment, I was certainly capable of doing that. That made me feel I was part of it.

There’s one memory I have from Geno’s where I was talking to a girl, and we were talking about the band. This always stuck with me — she said “crucial,” the music being crucial, or “essential.” It was just this attractive girl I was talking to, and I didn’t really know her. I don’t know if she knew you guys, so it was just interesting to hear a stranger comment about the music, which I thought was cool.

 

Jeff Stanton and Kathren Torraca during a February 2020 Eighties Night at Bubba’s Sulky Lounge in pre-pandemic Portland, Maine. (Doug Hubley photo)


 

I enjoy live performances now, but I often didn’t go to hear other local bands. I think as a social activity, the FJ actually got me to go out to hear music, probably because I’d been introduced to it — I was desensitized, a little bit more comfortable with it.

I remember once hearing somebody being disappointed by a concert because it didn’t sound like the album. But part of the appeal of live music is that it’s an ephemeral expression, and the result of everything that’s happened to that point. And it’s appealing to hear the same songs live more than once.

If you had gone only once, and they played really fast, “really fast” would be the memory. But there are other times when there’s a different vibe. I know it’s probably different for band members who rehearse and rehearse, and that’s why one has to appreciate when they can bring some freshness to it.

 

Jeff Stanton, Gretchen Schaefer and Doug Hubley living the dream on the veranda at the Cornish Inn, 2014.


 

Besides, sometimes “too fast” is just what you need.

I reread some Basement posts, and I’ve been listening to FJ music over the course of things. It’s interesting how listening to it brings this well of emotion back up. It was a high point, it was something that brought things together, got us together.

Whenever I go by there now, heading out to Cape Elizabeth and seeing the Corner, I don’t see a bunch of kids hanging around. I don’t see guitarists standing up against the side of the building, or people sitting on the side, or skateboarding in the parking lot there. I sometimes think of that time and wonder, if I had approached life differently and decided to set out on my own and not stayed at the store — well, things would be a lot different. I would be very interested and curious to know what different things would have sprouted for everybody else, too.

The FJ wove some vibrant threads, tones, and textures into the fabric of my experiences at that period — nights at Jim’s and Geno’s were always an event. I don’t know what the warp and woof of the fabric of my being would be without the various FJ interactions and influences. I imagine the patterns would be different.

 

Ken Reynolds, Doug Hubley and Steve Chapman: The Fashion Jungle in 2019. (Jeff Stanton photo)


 

More from the Fashion Jungle on Bandcamp and in Notes From A Basement

 

The late Alden Bodwell, a great friend and dedicated road manager, pictured during our last night in the Body Shop rehearsal space in early 1986. (Doug Hubley photo)


 

And here’s a blow-by-blow listing of chapters in the FJ story, in Notes and on Bandcamp, starting with the oldest (note that some titles may diverge):

 

Exuberance after a Fashion Jungle gig at Geno’s, 1987 or 1988. Clockwise from upper left: drummer Ken Reynolds, Jeri Chapman, Alden Bodwell, bassist Steve Chapman, Gretchen Schaefer, guitarist Doug Hubley. We lost Jeri in 2018 and Alden in 2019. (Jeff Stanton photo)


 

  • Faster, Louder, More Fun: The Fashion Jungle ArrivesNotes | Bandcamp
  • Fashion Jungle: Late for the PartyNotes | Bandcamp
  • Standing on the Corner . . . Suitcase in My HandNotes | Bandcamp
  • Wheels Within Wheels: Chapman Joins the Fashion JungleNotes | Bandcamp
  • Three in a Match, or the Jungle at Jim’s: Notes | Bandcamp
  • Dial K for Keys: Torraca Joins the Fashion Jungle: Notes | Bandcamp
  • Little Cries: Fashion Jungle in Studio, Part I: Notes | Bandcamp
  • Six Songs: Fashion Jungle in Studio, Part II: Notes | Bandcamp
  • Fashion Jungle: End of the Affair: Notes | Bandcamp
  • Fashion Jungle: Knights and Free-lances: Notes | Bandcamp
  • Fashion Jungle: Veterans’ Club: Notes | Bandcamp
  • Fashion Jungle: Audio Out — Video In: Notes | Bandcamp
  • Together Again: Videos of the Fashion Jungle at ’20 Years of a Basement’: Notes | Bandcamp
  • Other Voices: The Fashion Jungle, 40 Years Later: Notes | Bandcamp (album planned for summer 2021)


 



Notes from a Basement text and D. Hubley photos copyright © 2012–2021 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.

Young Man, Old Man

Doug Hubley, at left, and Ben Hubley pose for the self-timer during a 1987 camping trip to Fayette, Maine. Dad was 66, the age I am now; and I was 33, Dad’s age when I was born. Hubley Archives.


Is it too depressing to plow through tedious musings about aging? Cut to the chase and hear the new EP!


In 1974, when I was a callow 20-year-old,

I recorded French pop singer Charles Aznavour’s “Yesterday, When I Was Young” in my parents’ basement.

I’d heard Aznavour’s 1964 version, “Hier encore,” thanks to my sister Susie, a big Aznavour fan. I loved the melody, and the drama of his recording. And I loved his words — or so I thought.

In reality, I didn’t actually know Aznavour’s words because I don’t speak French. Instead, like many others, I sang Herbert Kretzmer’s English translation, which was widely familiar from Roy Clark’s 1969 hit version. Aznavour and Kretzmer tell the same basic story, that of an older man lamenting his misspent youth. But the specifics are quite different.

And I had no clue that in Aznavour’s original lyrics, the narrator was a man late in life looking back at himself as — wait for it! — a callow 20-year-old.

That irony blows some of the odor off the abysmal naïveté that gave the clueless 20-year-old me license to perform, with total conviction, Kretzmer’s maudlin lament about regret and world-weariness.

Aznavour’s lyric, in fact, towers over his longtime translator’s. Where Kretzmer sacrifices poetic force to conform to a rhyme scheme (“weak and shifting sand,” yikes!), Aznavour focuses on detailing, pointedly, the many, many ways a smart young man can be a jerk.

Doug Hubley performs "Wild Horses" on the Silvertone 6-string at Nancy Hubley's wedding, May 1975. Hubley Family photo.

Old man inside a young man: 20-year-old Doug Hubley performs “Wild Horses” on the Silvertone 6-string at Nancy Hubley’s wedding, May 1975. Hubley Family photo.

 

So maybe it was good that I didn’t know the original lyrics when I recorded it. Maybe Kretzmer’s interpretation was right for me at that point in time. Soggy regrets about things that I’d never experienced seemed to suit my 20-year-old mood better than a hard look in the mirror. (Not that I shied away from mirrors.)

But the bigger issue is: Why, at that promising age, with so much of life ahead of me, did I feel compelled to assume the persona of an old man bitter with remorse over past mistakes?

Callous as well as callow in my 20s, was I displacing into fiction feelings of guilt about my youthful hijinks? Did I wish to inhabit elderly narrators because aging is associated with wisdom, and I’m insecure about my intellect?

Did I think the older, wiser, sorrier image was attractive? Was there a connection with my tendency to seek control of unwanted situations by envisioning how they will end?

Like Jim Reeves, I wonder, I wonder — but I really don’t want to know.

The scariest thing on Halloween. Hubley Archives.

At the time, performing “Yesterday, When I Was Young” struck me as highly romantic, or least as a way to channel my bleak outlook into something decorative. I had no job nor lover nor any clear path toward what I wanted out of all that life, beyond emoting into the Sony reel-to-reel.

Anyhoo, whatever my motivations, learning the song was absolutely a good music lesson. Aznavour’s melody is elegant, a chain of perfect phrases that link and then break away as the long line progresses from wistful to bitter to tragic. It felt good on my brain to figure out the chords and learn to sing over them. It was a welcome challenge to my musical foundations in rock and country.

The South Richland Street basement, 1974. One of the amps worked. Hubley Archives.

 

Older and slightly wiser, I’d achieved some critical distance by 1985, when I made my band learn “It Was a Very Good Year,” Sinatra’s hit of 20 years prior. I still aspired to the regretful roué persona, but now was able to season it with some irony. (As opposed to having the irony present itself 45 years later, as with the Aznavour song during the writing of this post.)

It’s also true that Ervin Drake’s “Very Good Year,” unlike “Yesterday, When I Was Young,” is not about guilty second thoughts. In fact, it’s the opposite — a self-congratulatory review of the Ages of Man, Horndog Division (although the sexy talk is gone by the final verse and with it any charm in the lyrics, as evocative images of perfumed hair and snogging in the back of a limousine give way to, yikes again, the self-satisfied “fine old wine” stuff. Bartender, make mine remorse).

Well, ’nuff said about the lyrics. But Drake’s minor-to-major melody, twining through a chordal structure closely anchored to D, was quite compelling. “Very Good Year” was first recorded by the Kingston Trio, it made the charts with Sinatra, and its composer was American — but Drake’s melody had the same exotic appeal to my uninformed brain as the Eastern Mediterranean music I was enamored of in the 1980s.

So my band the Fashion Jungle learned it, complete with a Richard Thompson guitar treatment that would have been the cat’s pajamas if I could play like Richard Thompson. And the same year we learned it, I forced a tape of our version on poor Richard after his Bowdoin College performance, which I’d previewed for the Maine Sunday Telegram, complete with Thompson interview. I don’t want to know what he thought of the FJ, but I’ll never forget him, sweaty in his pink suit, backing away from me apprehensively as I approached with the tape.

The Boarders striving for a bygone look in a 1994 publicity image by Jeff Stanton. From left: Gretchen Schaefer, Jonathan Nichols-Pethick, Doug Hubley. Hubley Archives.

Ten years and two bands later, The Boarders elevated “It Was a Very Good Year” to some sort of pinnacle in our strange and diverse repertoire. Driven by drummer Jonathan Nichols-Pethick and bassist Gretchen Schaefer (still my partner in life and in music), Drake’s melody got a heavy, vaguely Balkan accordion setting that I still like, bombast and all.

Today, 26 years later, though I don’t wallow in them anymore, I still enjoy musical elegies for lost youth — “September Song,” “When the World Was Young,” etc. (And we just discovered Hoagy Carmichael’s “Rockin’ Chair,” only 90 years late.)

And then, in an altogether different vein, there’s Waylon Jennings’ version of “A Couple More Years,” the Dr. Hook song whose narrator makes plain to a younger lover the pitfalls of their May-August relationship.

In fact, I think Waylon’s willingness to play the world-weary elder, something he shared with Willie Nelson, is a reason that I like them both. I could never sing Waylon’s “Slow Movin’ Outlaw” with a straight face, but as maudlin as that song is, the crack in Waylon’s voice and the loss in Dee Moeller’s lyrics — and, of course, the railroad frame of reference — get me every time:

“All the old stations are being torn down
And the high-flying trains no longer roll
The floors are all sagging with boards that are suffering
From not being used anymore
Things are all changing, the world’s rearranging
A time that will soon be no more
Where has a slow-movin’, once quick-draw outlaw got to go?”

Ben and Harriette Hubley in 1942. They were married for 75 years. Hubley Archives.

But as much as I liked them, I never performed many of those songs nor did I regret not doing so. I guess it’s a healthy sign that as I finally learned to enjoy my fast-passing youth, I became less interested in fictionalizing it.

And a sharper corrective came from the punk-rock scene in Portland, Maine. Punk’s be-here-now ethos, its acid anti-sentimentality — especially when the sentiment was nostalgia — made a deep impression on me. (Still, I bet there’s no shortage of people my age nostalgic for their punk years.)

So I learned to think twice before waxing nostalgic in unfamiliar company. (Good training for one’s 60s, especially during 2020, a year that has lowered the bar for what might qualify as the Good Ole Days.)

More important, I started to understand the emotional uses, good and bad, of nostalgia — how it can comfort, how it can anesthetize, how it can co-opt, how it can deflect, how it can be weaponized. (Could there be such a thing as an ethics of nostalgia? Yep. Try it on Google.)

Doug Hubley and Gretchen Schaefer in 1991.

In any case, in 2010 they moved me to a new cubicle in the Tower of Song (actually the Tower of Song annex out by the Maine Mall), and a couple years later I made my own contribution to the catalog of songs that view youth across the wide river of age. They say you shouldn’t drink alone, and my song “I Never Drink Alone” is about someone who is saved from that habit only by the ghosts and memories keeping him company at the bar.

I’m blessed to still have loved ones in my life (if not so many as in 2012), but then, well into my 50s, I was looking ahead. (See “control of unwanted situations,” above.) “I Never Drink Alone” is one of the truest songs emotionally I have ever written, a picture of mourning what’s lost and fearing how one mourns.

Three years later, “Just a Moment in the Night” came along. Like “I Never Drink Alone,” it comes straight from the heart. But typical me: I finally manage to write a love song after 50 years, and instead of a celebration, it’s another frigging elegy for times past.

In other words, I’ve arrived: I have become that retrospective old man I thought I wanted to be all those years ago, when I was strumming the Silvertone and turning the Shure Vocalmaster reverb to 11. Then a young man assuming the role of an old man, I’m now an old man looking back at the youngster and thinking: twerp.

Yes, I’m an old man; and regrets, I have a few, as Paul Anka whispered in Sinatra’s ear. (Sinatra, according to Wikipedia, didn’t actually like “My Way,” although I imagine he gritted his teeth and deposited the royalty checks anyway. I don’t like it either, although Sid Vicious’s version is funny — the first time.)

Would I have written “I Never Drink Alone” and “Just a Moment in the Night” in the 2010s if I hadn’t loved “Yesterday, When I Was Young” and “Slow Movin’ Outlaw” in the 1970s? Would such odes to longing and regret, sung in the December of one’s years, yada yada, still resonate so strongly if I heard them for the first time only now, in my 60s?

Gretchen Schaefer photo (detail).

Beats me. Doesn’t matter. Relatively few things really do, as one discovers in one’s golden years. Old age comes with its own very special concerns, and they seem far removed from the rampaging lusts and hot tears of youthful folly. Regrets, I have a few, and they’re pretty much about arthritic feet, dwindling energy and loved ones we’ve lost.

So at last I understand the listeners who most closely identified with those songs, as opposed to the callow 20-year-old looking for a persona. I’m not quite the narrator in those songs — too lucky, even happy, for that — but we nod “hello” when our paths cross at the bar. Really, I’d rather drink the fine old wine from vintage kegs than waste it on a metaphor.

We mourn the past that’s gone, we regret the hurt we caused. But we don’t regret the powers, and the opportunities to use them, that we had. Little did I know, when I was wandering through the Seine River fog of “Yesterday, When I Was Young” all those years ago, that the regrets for one’s lost youth would seem more and more like a luxury?


These three songs

resulted from a summer 2020 push to record music for this Notes post*. Here are three diverse takes on getting older. On the first two, it’s all me in front of the mic. “Beyond the Great Divide” is a Day for Night recording featuring Gretchen Schaefer on harmony vocal. (See the EP on Bandcamp.)

*as well as for a new website showcasing my original songs.

Notes From a Basement copyright © 2012–2020 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.

Sedum at sunset. Hubley Archives.

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