Notes From a Basement

By Doug Hubley: Sounds and reflections of a musical life

Search Results for: “Fashion Jungle

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. 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.

Together Again: Videos of the Fashion Jungle at ’20 Years of a Basement’

A temporary reunion of the Fashion Jungle at the 20 Years of a Basement concert, marking my two-decade anniversary of  performing with bands. Held Aug. 10, 1991, at Sprague Hall, Cape Elizabeth, Maine.

Read about the concert. Learn more about the Fashion Jungle.

Videographer: Alden Bodwell. Sound operator: Ted Papadopoulos.




Video Mall: Fashion Jungle videos, 1988


From a Fashion Jungle rehearsal in 1988. Video by Gretchen Schaefer. “Don’t Sell the Condo” copyright © 2010 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.



From a Fashion Jungle performance at The Brunswick, May 1988. Video by Alden Bodwell. “Little Cries” copyright © 1981 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.



The Fashion Jungle at Video A Go-Go, May 1988. Video production by South Portland Television. “Curious Attraction” copyright © 1984 by Steven Chapman. All rights reserved.



The Fashion Jungle at Video A Go-Go, May 1988. Video production by South Portland Television. “Blunt Cut” copyright © 2013 by Steven Chapman and Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.



The Fashion Jungle at Video A Go-Go, May 1988. Video production by South Portland Television. “Pleasures of the Flesh” copyright © 1984 by Kenneth Reynolds and Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.



The Fashion Jungle at Video A Go-Go, May 1988. Video production by South Portland Television. “Old Masters” copyright © 1983 by Steven Chapman. All rights reserved.



The Fashion Jungle at Video A Go-Go, May 1988. Video production by South Portland Television. “Peacetime Hero” copyright © 1981 by James Sullivan. All rights reserved.



The Fashion Jungle at Video A Go-Go, May 1988. Video production by South Portland Television. “Final Words” copyright © 1984 by Steven Chapman. All rights reserved.

Fashion Jungle: Audio out — Video in


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


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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

Richard Julio introduces us at Video A Go-Go. 


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

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

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

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

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

So that was the door.

And what was the window?

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

Fashion Jungle: Veterans’ Club

posters-fj-wouldntdie001

Bad, pesky words! Go directly to popular tunes!



“It’s all the more baffling that a band with so many high-quality original songs would seem to have an attitude about its future that borders on the blasé. But the Fashion Jungle three aren’t so much blasé as they are pragmatic. ‘We’re all too old to work our way up the ladder,’ Hubley says.

” ‘It isn’t that we lack ambition,’ [bassist Steve] Chapman adds. ‘We can’t get from here to there without doing things we don’t want to do.’ ”

— “Back in Style: Fashion Jungle Goes ‘Round Again” by Chris Pierson, Sweet Potato, Sept. 2‑9, 1987


fj-87003

A Fashion Jungle publicity shot taken in the basement of Steve Chapman’s house by the Minolta self-timer. Clockwise from left: drummer Ken Reynolds, guitarist Doug Hubley, bassist Steve Chapman.

Steve moved back to Maine in late 1986, accompanied by his new bride, Jeri Kane Chapman.

And the next thing we knew, the Fashion Jungle was a going concern again: the same membership as the 1982 edition, Steve, Doug and drummer Ken Reynolds.

It was like we’d never left off.

The playing came back quickly despite the two-year layoff. We learned new originals — the band’s declared raison d’être — and found a few covers, such as the Beatles’ “She’s a Woman” and Woody Guthrie’s “Do Re Mi,” to which I added lyrics carping about the carpetbaggers flooding into Maine.

Gigs came easily. Not only good old Geno’s, where the reconstituted FJ made its debut on May 29, 1987, but at new venues like the Marble Bar (on York Street where Portland Pie is now; lovely acoustics) and Herb Gideon’s legendary Tree Cafe, on Danforth Street adjacent to its namesake, one of the city’s last elm trees. At Zootz, the epicenter of Portland’s hip-and-cool nightlife for a few short years, we played a benefit for a group advocating against U.S. involvement in Central America. In 1988, we returned to the Maine Festival.

Rehearsals were briefly elevated out of the basement, into the dining room of the duplex that Gretchen and I were renting at 506 Preble St., South Portland. To avoid disturbing the neighbors (who had no such scruples toward us when it came to abusing their children and holding all-night poker games), we played quietly, sans PA and with a partial drum kit. Later in the year we moved back below ground level, into an acoustically insulated rehearsal room that Steve built in the basement of his and Jeri’s house.

Complete with coffee stain, the lyrics to "Veterans' Club." Hubley Archives.

Complete with coffee stain, the lyrics to “Veterans’ Club.” Hubley Archives.

As I had done with “Corner Night,” I wrote a song about this phase of the Fashion Jungle. I’m not normally big on explaining my lyrics, but will make an exception in the case of “Veterans’ Club” because it’s so arcane and yet so germane to this post.

As the title tells you, the song lightly likens being in a rock band to fighting a war. I hope it’s clear that I don’t mean that too seriously, and that I’m mocking my own melodramatic tendencies. But if the FJ wasn’t the crucible of battle, it was at least a saucepan of high hopes, hard work, ecstasy and disappointment . . .  well, enough of that metaphor. But the experience was intense enough to leave us all feeling bound together for years after the band’s demise.

The top of the song is riddled with the names of Fashion Jungle songs treated straight or as puns: “Entertainer,” “A Certain Hunger,” “Nothing Works,” “Nothing to Say,” “Final Words.” There were other insider references. “Box-office barricades” harked back, for example, to the Geno’s practice of making bands appoint someone to take admission at the door, duty that was no picnic at that particular venue (Gretchen, Jeff and Alden usually got stuck with it — thanks again to them!).

But in “Veterans’ Club” all the insider stuff works, more or less, to set up the real topic:  Having starred in the blockbuster Fashion Jungle Story from 1981 to 1984, how did we feel about doing a sequel?

It was a big deal for us to have have three gigs in the course of a single season -- hence this T-shirt design by Gretchen Schaefer commemorating an autumn that found us at Zootz, the Tree and the Marble Bar.

It was a big deal for us to have have three gigs in the course of a single season — hence this T-shirt design by Gretchen Schaefer commemorating an autumn that found us at Zootz, the Tree and the Marble Bar.

I can’t speak for Ken and Steve, but I was done with romanticizing both the FJ and the music biz in general, thanks to a few years of writing about it for the Guy Gannett newspapers. “Try and try, and try again”: We were glad to be back together, and we gave it a good run for a few more years — but fame was no longer a question.

As I explained to Chris Pierson for the Sweet Potato profile excerpted above, I had come to see the FJ as folk musicians (albeit really noisy ones): If our music was sophisticated, our approach to promoting and distributing it was anything but. It was haphazard, low-tech and uninformed by the kind of schmoozing that’s even more important than talent — let’s get real, OK? — in making your mark. In short, we were players, not players. Or as Steve told Pierson, “We can’t get from here to there without doing things we don’t want to do.”

The Fashion Jungle at the Tree Cafe, 1987 or 1988. From left: Steve Chapman, drummer Ken Reynolds, Doug Hubley. Photograph by Jeff Stanton.

The Fashion Jungle at the Tree Cafe, 1987 or 1988. From left: Steve Chapman, drummer Ken Reynolds, Doug Hubley. Photograph by Jeff Stanton.

There were other things going on. Real life was picking up momentum, as the song goes. Steve was a newlywed with a new house and a new career in food-service administration. Ken was working vampire hours at the post office. My journalistic schedule was as erratic as ever, mixing days, nights and weekends.

In short, other demands were demanding, and — for me, anyway — the success or failure of the Fashion Jungle, while still something to take seriously, was no longer the yardstick to measure my own success or failure.


Hear 1987-88 recordings from the reformed Fashion Jungle.

    • Blunt Cut (Hubley-Chapman) Steve Chapman and I never sat down to write together as a duo, although we did write collaboratively with Ken Reynolds. Instead, this was a case of fitting my existing lyric — one of the few that use a hairdo as a portent for the demise of an affair — to his excellent existing melody. The words are cryptic, but the images all come from a liaison I had in Austria and Sweden in the mid-1970s. Recorded at Geno’s on July 24, 1987, a stunningly humid day. I don’t know what all the screaming is about toward the end. The fadeout is the intro to “Nothing to Say.” Read Steve’s thoughts about this song.
    • Sporting Life (Chapman) An early SC contribution to the FJ repertoire, this fantasy of life in the Jet Set started as a supersonic rock number. With keyboardist Kathren Torraca and saxophonist Jim Sullivan in late 1984, it was a slower, heavier ska number. Our late three-piece arrangement kept the ska bounce, but got faster and faster and bigger and bigger. Recorded at Geno’s, May 29, 1987 — I think this was our debut after Steve returned. Read Steve’s thoughts about this song.
    • Veterans’ Club (Hubley) This was one of my first songwriting contributions to the reborn Fashion Jungle. Like “Corner Night,” it’s a musical attempt to find some perspective on the travails of the FJ, six years after the band came into existence. Recorded at Geno’s, May 29, 1987.
    • Entertainer (Reynolds-Hubley) Better versions of this striptease serenade appear elsewhere, but this is included because of the change we made to the arrangement. The middle used to be a showcase for a Steve Chapman bass solo, but lacking Kathren Torraca’s keyboard, we now felt the sound was too spare. So we lifted the entire instrumental signature from a different song, “Why This Passion,” and used that for the solo.
    • Why This Passion (Hubley) But this is not that original arrangement of the song written for the FJ in 1983, a mopey creation that could barely stand up under the weight of an overwrought arrangement. In 1985, for the Dan Knight FJ, I streamlined and supercharged the setting, with the Velvet Underground in mind. Here, with Steve back on bass, this tale of a lovers’ tiff gets the full-blown late FJ blowtorch treatment.
    • Complaint (Chapman-Hubley-Reynolds) A collaborative musical setting for my lyric, which is an elaborate and personalized complaint (hence the title) about overheated land development in Maine in the 1980s. Toward the end of the FJ’s run, as our songwriting slowed down, we increasingly resorted to working out the music for new songs as a group. This is a rough rehearsal recording of one that we never performed — in fact, it’s a composite of two incomplete takes. Chapmans’ basement, 1988.

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. Photograph by Jeff Stanton.

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. Photograph by Jeff Stanton.

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.

Fashion Jungle: End of the Affair

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

No text! Go straight to music!


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

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

“It’s deja vu all over again.”

― Yogi Berra, master of quotable quotes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Six Songs: Fashion Jungle in Studio, Part II

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Gee, whatever happened to those few bucks?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


See galleries from the Outlook sessions. Text continues below.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Ken and Kathren. Gretchen Schaefer photo.

Ken and Kathren. Gretchen Schaefer photo.

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

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

Little Cries: Fashion Jungle in Studio, Part I

The Fashion Jungle looking crafty in a 1984 publicity shoot. From left: Doug Hubley, Ken Reynolds, Steve Chapman, Kathren Torraca. Photo by Gretchen Schaefer.

“The Fashion Jungle is the other half of Portland’s one-two punch [along with Big House.] . . . Doug Hubley, Steve Chapman and Ken Reynolds all write and play perfect pop songs à la Elvis Costello’s first album or latter-day XTC. They have a seemingly endless supply of catchy hooks and provocative lyrics. With the addition of Catherine [sic] Torraca on keyboards, The Fashion Jungle have a full sound with which to perform their miracles. Trouser Press gave their four-song cassette good marks and I agree.”

— Seth Berner, “A Beat From The Street,” Sweet Potato magazine, Feb. 29-March 14, 1984

Go directly to music! Skip self-indulgent writings of old man!


It may seem strange to you young whippersnappers, but back in my day it was much more difficult to put recorded music out into the world.

Then as now, the means for distributing music outside the confines of live performance were rooted in a mighty industrial apparatus. But for decades the industry occupied itself largely with manufacturing and distributing containers for music — vinyl, cassettes, etc. — that by today’s standards held a disappointingly small amount of sound considering the space they took up.

Engineer Tom Blackwell at Studio 3’s second location, on Elm Street. Hubley Archives.

While they were fairly priced for the consumer (at least until CDs came along), they seemed to cost plenty to produce, especially on top of recording expenses, and even more so if you aspired to any sort of production values. For my bands it felt prohibitively expensive, even as recently as 20 years ago, to have a bunch of recordings manufactured in any format.

Nevertheless, it was and is the pop musician’s imperative to make recordings. It was part of the contract. You might never be able to do it — my band the Fashion Jungle came pretty close to not being able to do it — but, like the Muslim’s obligation to visit Mecca, you didn’t question the expectation. And why would you? Having a record was proof of legitimacy. More to the point, we get into music to play it for people, and what better way to play it for people than to sell them a record?

For many of us, too, recording was not just a means to various ends (make money, make fans, make a reputation, etc.). Emotionally it was an end in itself. It was the mystery that, once penetrated, would answer all questions and solve all problems. It was the Emerald City. So many great things had happened in so many recording studios that just getting into one and cutting tracks was a compulsion beyond all reason. It was the world I thought I wanted to be in.

Hiding behinds words as usual, here I am during a Fashion Jungle rehearsal in the Hubleys’ basement. Jeff Stanton photo.

In the early ’70s I even tried to set my room in my parents’ basement up as some kind of studio, and I “produced” a recording, a collection of songs by a friend named Leah McKinney. All this based on a nearly complete lack of knowledge about studio realities.

The original Fashion Jungle didn’t last long enough to get into a studio (although in terms of spirit and recording sound, I like the demos we did — on a Sony reel-to-reel in my parents’ basement — nearly as much as the professional recordings that came later. Hear them here and here). But once bassist Steve Chapman, drummer Ken Reynolds and I had worked together for a while, we knew that we had the goods and that we needed to lay tracks.

I don’t remember how we chose Studio 3, which opened in 1981 in a little outbuilding behind the brick row houses on Park Street. Tim Tierney was the business manager and Tom Blackwell, the studio engineer — both of them kind souls who made our first studio-recording experience more than pleasant. We spent one evening there in August 1982 to record one song, which was all we could afford.

I still retain flashes of memory from that session. Nerves, of course. A tiny dim studio with zero atmosphere. It took some time to get a drum sound we liked, and the trial-and-error period included some experimenting with a water-filled snare drum that was one of Tom’s tricks of the trade. I don’t think we ended up using it, but it’s also true that the snare sound you hear (music below) is heavier, bassier, than Ken’s usual sound.

We recorded “Shortwave Radio,” laying down rhythm guitar, bass and drums in one pass, and overdubbing lead guitar and vocal. I don’t think we needed a lot of takes. The result was probably a third faster than it should have been. Studio nerves, maybe. The playing was good aside from the speed. We went in with no ideas about production or what sound we wanted. What we got was a very straightforward reproduction, clean, collected and businesslike.

Kathren and Steve during a Fashion Jungle rehearsal in Ben and Hattie Hubley’s basement, 1983. Digital transfer from 35mm negative/Hubley Archives.

Afterward we stood around in the parking lot shivering and rehashing the session. It was an unseasonably chilly night (1982 was one of those years without much summer in Maine). I don’t think we were happy with the recording — we weren’t happy about something, in any case — and I’m not sure we ever did much with it. Maybe got a few jobs on the strength of it.

As previously noted in this space, keyboardist Kathren Torraca joined the FJ during the winter of 1983, resulting in the best-known FJ lineup. She was a quick study and we were ready to record with her by May 1983, a mere two months after her first live date with the band. Five of the six recordings below are from the three sessions that took place that month. Again we worked with Tim and Tom at Studio 3, which had relocated to Elm Street, in Portland’s Bayside neighborhood.

These were high times for the band and for me personally. I had finished classes at the University of Southern Maine the previous December, and Gretchen Schaefer, whom I had met at USM and partnered up with, and I graduated together early in the month (getting cold feet sitting in the Cumberland County Civic Center, where they had laid plywood over the hockey ice for our graduation; having beer, aquavit and croquet at my parents’ house; meeting for the first time Gretchen’s mother, May (appropriately enough) who came up from Connecticut in her olive-drab Ford Mustang for the occasion).

I had a full-time job in the clip library at the Guy Gannett newspapers, working 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. every weekday, and rehearsing into the evening a few days a week.

The FJ was playing out at few times a month — Geno’s, Kayo’s, Moose Alley, one-off gigs like a very lucrative date at Colby College that I wish to god I had recorded, because, as I recall, we were fabulous. (Maybe it’s better that I hadn’t recorded it.) And that date took place in between Studio 3 sessions. Man, we were pros! We were the bomb! It felt solid musically and personally. There was nowhere to go but up, and we were climbing fast. The May sessions fit that picture perfectly, at least as far as I can remember.

Gretchen with a new painting in the apartment on Preble Street, South Portland, that she moved into in 1983. The son of her then-landlord is now an engineer at The Studio, descendant of Studio 3. Hubley Archives.

Considering our limited studio experience, we acquitted ourselves well, needing a minimum of takes, overdubs and punch-ins. Gretchen came down after work at the Boys & Girls Club, bringing us sandwiches and beer, and coming away impressed with how businesslike we were. I have mental pictures of Tom Blackwell swabbing the heads on the 16-track recorder so often that it seemed like a tic or a reflex. I remember plying him with whiskey when we trooped into the control room to hear playbacks; I also recall Ken having to redo his “Entertainer” vocal because he kept singing, “She points her pank tongue at you” — instead of “pink tongue.” As Merle Haggard says, I guess I’ll just sit here and drank.

What I don’t remember is why we didn’t record “Old Masters” or one of Steve’s other songs, considering how good they were. Instead, we recorded one new song, the dance-clubby “Entertainer,” which Ken and I wrote; my “Groping for the Perfect Song,” from 1982; and fell back on two tunes from the pre-Steve FJ, Jim Sullivan’s “Censorship” and “Little Cries,” the first song I ever wrote for the FJ.

In the end, this second Studio 3 recording proved useful for getting work, and both the national music magazine Trouser Press and Portland’s own Sweet Potato reviewed it. But we never named, packaged or tried to sell it. Money was one reason. In addition, I don’t think we were that excited about the recordings. Like the August 1982 “Shortwave Radio,” we just played these songs too fast, excepting maybe “Entertainer.” Perhaps these were our usual tempos that worked on stage, where they were exciting, but not in the studio, where they came across as simply frantic.

By the same token, because — again — we had no clue what kind of sound to try for, Tom gave us a very straight mix that showed off our playing well but failed to achieve any particular emotional effect. I guess this is why there are producers. We thought we could do that job, but we thought wrong.

Hubley, Chapman, Torraca and Reynolds in a 1984 publicity image by Gretchen Schaefer.

It was a dose of reality. They keep on coming. But still the recording imperative loomed over us. Phil Spector rode squirming on my shoulders. I guess The Recording Studio is one of those things that look huge and monolithic from a distance, but become smaller, more porous and more complex as you come closer.

You start out walking toward the Emerald City, and end up facing just another door.


Now for some music! Six recordings by the Fashion Jungle made at Studio 3, Portland, Maine, in 1982-83.

  • Censorship (Sullivan) Long after “Dumb Models” and “Fashion Jungle Theme” had fallen by the wayside, Jim Sullivan’s two contributions to the 1981 FJ endured in the repertoire, a testament to the excitement and musical integrity he built into his songs. This Studio 3 performance is some tight!
  • Little Cries (Hubley) Another entry from the class of 1981 that stayed with the Fashion Jungle till the end. Ken, Steve and especially Kathren shine here. Two years after we recorded it, this track ended up on the Studio 3-produced charity LP Maine Rocks for the United Way. In our sole appearance on vinyl, ever, we were among such local luminaries as the Kopterz, Scouts in Action, Devonsquare and the Jensons (whose founding drummer was my boyhood pal Tom Hansen).
  • Entertainer (Reynolds-Hubley) One of two songs that Ken Reynolds and I co-wrote. As with “Dumb Models” and “She Lives Downstairs,” the genesis of the song was a morally anchored Reynolds lyric exploring some aspect of sexual politics — in this case, strippers. I created the melody and tweaked the lyrics a bit. It is actually pretty good club music. Parts of this song or this recording ended up as theme music for two media products: Gretchen Schaefer’s video-class project “Art Who?” in 1986, and a slide show about a play performed at the college where I work in 2006.
  • Groping for the Perfect Song (Hubley) One of the first songs I wrote after Steve joined the band, this stayed with the FJ for the duration and cropped up again nearly 20 years later in the Howling Turbines repertoire. I derived some sort of early inspiration for this from David Byrne, but that didn’t last. This recording is a bit mechanical-sounding, and may be the weakest of the May 1983 stuff. Please buy it anyway, because we need the encouragement.
  • Shortwave Radio (Hubley) This 1982 recording made at Studio 3 was the Fashion Jungle’s first venture into the studio. A song that enhances an early glimmer of self-awareness with lyrical touches that attempt to symbolize trains, radios and winter weather.
  • Entertainer (Digitally modified!) (Reynolds-Hubley) The same original recording as the previous version, this has been enhanced, or something, with digital reverb to add the kind of atmosphere a song about striptease artists really needs.

“Censorship” copyright © 1981 by James Sullivan. “Little Cries” copyright © 1981 by Douglas L. Hubley. “Entertainer” copyright © 2012 by Kenneth W. Reynolds and Douglas L. Hubley. “Groping for the Perfect Song” copyright © 1983 by Douglas Hubley. “Shortwave Radio” copyright © 1981 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.

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

This time you can see my mouth — too bad! Steve and Doug during the May 1983 Colby College gig. Jeff Stanton photo.

 

Dial K for Keys: Torraca Joins the Fashion Jungle

The Kathren Torraca-era Fashion Jungle in a publicity image taken in 1984 by Gretchen Schaefer. From left: Ken Reynolds, Kathren, Doug Hubley, Steve Chapman.

Go directly to the music!

“The Fashion Jungle started [the show]. For those who have still never seen this remarkable trio, I will state for the record that they are the most creative and intelligent group in Portland . . . Unfortunately, they are not at their best in cavernous confines. . . . “

“The Pathetix laid to rest all doubts I had coming in . . .On this night, they exhibited a brashness reminiscent of . . . the real Generation X. . . . The lineup has solidified at Gary Piscopo doing most of the bass playing and lead singing, guitarist Chuck Fredericks, drummer Kevin Flemming [sic] and newest addition Kathren Torraca on keyboards.”

— Seth Berner, review, “Going to A Go Go,”
Sweet Potato magazine, Nov. 10-24, 1982

Anyone involved in any way with any band will possess a vision of the band, or a version, that defines that band for them. (Rashomon much?)

To me, for example, The Beatles’ Second Album is the Fab Four’s Finest. But to the Beatles themselves it was no album at all — just Capitol Records’ sloppy housekeeping.

The most-used image of the Torraca-era Fashion Jungle, taken in 1984 by Gretchen Schaefer. From left: Steve Chapman, Doug Hubley, Ken Reynolds, Kathren.

Looking at my own bands, the version of the Fashion Jungle that may be the most definitive for the most people (probably 25 or so) began during the winter of 1982-83. Although drummer Ken Reynolds, bassist Steve Chapman and I had honed the trio format to a fine expressive edge — and we rocked pretty hard too — we wanted more instrumental color.

So when the opportunity appeared that winter to poach keyboardist Kathren Torraca from the Pathetix, we grabbed it.

It was no bolt from the blue. For years I had known the Torraca family, a smart and accomplished bunch who today are involved in demanding endeavors like restoring vintage airplanes, raising excellent families of their own and practicing emergency medicine in war zones.

I first met them at the Corner, that tendrilous social organism based at Patty Ann’s Superette, a family variety store in South Portland, Maine. They were teenagers when we met — I was a few years older — and were doing teenage stuff. Such as working after school at Patty Ann’s, making pizza and Italian sandwiches at the food counter tucked into the back of the store.

First Elizabeth Torraca and then her younger sister Kathren held that job, which resulted in a friendship that still endures between the Torracas and the family that owned the store, the Stantons — particularly Jeff Stanton, who is also one of my closest friends.

Whenever I visited the Torracas I was impressed by the implied musicality of their family life. There was a grand piano in the living room and guitars lying around, songbooks, a tambourine, a concertina. It was the most musical living room I’d ever seen, in terms of both equipment and mood. The furniture was ample and cushiony, and a curtain of trees across the house front kept the room quite dark. (The first people to hear my song “Shortwave Radio” were Jeff and Liz. I played it for them on a Torraca classical guitar.)

I formed an early impression of Kathren from a movie that Jeff made using a Kodak consumer-grade camera that miraculously captured sound as well as image. In The Corner Movie, she wears black nail polish and plays Joni Mitchell’s “River” from a songbook on the grand piano. (Aimee Torraca is another featured performer, also with a Mitchell selection. Other Corner denizens appeared as well; I’m shown in the store performing “You Know How It Is,” a song about working in a store.)

But Kathren was very young in the film and I didn’t think of her as a potential musical colleague until 1982. Enjoying a steep and fast upward trajectory that fall, the three-member FJ was somehow engaged to play the “Going to A Go Go” gig described in Seth Berner’s review excerpted above. We opened the bill for the Pathetix, the Substance and the Neighborhoods, considered one of Boston’s best alt-rock outfits. The venue was the Portland Expo; in memory it seems as big as George Miller’s Thunderdome, but much more reverberant.

Kathren Torraca and Phil Stanton hard at work at Patty Ann’s, 1982. Hubley Archives.

The one song I can remember the Pathetix playing was John Cale’s “Dead or Alive.” But we were impressed with Kathren. I’m not sure if “poach” is the right word to describe our asking her to join the FJ; I don’t recall any particular resentment from Gary’s band thereafter — but she was rehearsing with us by February 1983, and made her FJ debut in March or April.

Musically and personally, Kathren transformed the Fashion Jungle. Kathren was, and is, very fun. (I almost called this post “A buck three-eighty,” in honor of her default price estimate for anything whose price she didn’t know; she’s big on puns and malapropisms.)

Steve, Ken and I liked to make jokes and laugh at them in that manly way that’s so much about distinguishing yourself against the world, since they’ve taken dueling away from us. But for Kat, as wry as she could be, humor seemed less about making some kind of statement and more about the sheer enjoyment of life. She was effervescent in a way the other three of us just couldn’t muster.

Her musical contribution was transformative. She played the old Farfisa rock organ that we had acquired during the Mirrors days, but the Farfisa ended up serving mostly as a stand for her main axe, a Casio keyboard that I never got close to. I never understood how she got so many colors and textures, many of them quite mind-bending, from that fairly simple rig.

Steve and I suggested parts to Kathren, but her musical sensibility was sui generis. It was painterly, often expressed in big washes of sound that billowed nicely around the hard-focused sound made by the boys of the FJ. And like Kathren herself, it was exuberant.

At the same time, Steve and I were entering our most prolific songwriting period — bringing to our work, without even trying, a sense of high mystery and romance. The tumblers clicked into place and the massive door began to swing open again. As it turned out, Portland was ready for us.


The first and last of these recordings were made during an April 1, 1983, concert at the building at the corner of Market and Middle streets in Portland — once the Rathskellar (the Mirrors played there), then Ruby Begonia’s (I played there), much later the Big Easy (the Cowlix played there).

But when the Fashion Jungle appeared in our second public performance with Kathren, it was called It’s Magic. Also on the bill were (I think) the Neighborhoods — or was it Lou Miami & The Kozmetix? Kat, who had debuted with us at Kayo’s the previous month, had absorbed part of the repertoire at that point. The mix comes off the soundboard and is quite good aside from a strange phasing sound (I’m still trying to find an effects pedal that will make that sound) and occasional swellings in the guitar signal.

The middle five songs date from September 1983. Ken Reynolds is absent from these recordings, having broken his thumb in a softball game. Using Steve’s Yamaha drum machine, we used the opportunity to record much of our current material to document the keyboard parts for the next keyboardist — as Kathren had indicated her intention to leave the band. A false alarm, as it turned out.

Personnel: Steve Chapman, bass; Doug Hubley, guitar; Ken Reynolds, drums; Kathren Torraca, keyboards. Vocals as noted.

Ah, the romance! The mystery! The Fashion Jungle! Photo by Gretchen Schaefer.

  • Censorship (Sullivan) We could do plenty as a trio, but Jim Sullivan’s protest against right-wing threats against free speech really needed a lead instrument. It was one of the first numbers Kathren learned. I sing it.
  • Sporting Life (Chapman) Steve apparently imprinted on James Bond at an early age, as evidenced by this evocation of Jet Set living, as well as by “Dial M for Mamba,” below. One of his early contributions to the FJ repertoire, “Sporting Life” started as a fast rocker and later became a slow ska number. Steve sings.
  • A Certain Hunger (Chapman) I liked everything Steve wrote for the FJ, but when he brought this in, I was flabbergasted by its sophistication and appeal. It’s a psychological, if not literal, portrait of someone who understands only too late that his lover is some kind of vampire. Not, as it turns out, that he minds. Steve is the singer.
  • Old Masters (Chapman) The last post featured a version of Steve’s second songwriting contribution to the FJ in which he laid a new (as in 2012) vocal on a 30-year-old track by the trio FJ. Here’s a version with Kathren and the drum box. Again, a Chapman lead vocal.
  • Dial M for Mamba (Chapman) A ’60s spy fantasy from Steve. I remember confusion all around about the difference between the snake and the dance, but if your life is threatened, I guess a poisonous snake is more useful than a Latin beat. But we have the beat anyway, thanks to the drum machine. Don’t ask me where I got that accent . . .
  • Pleasures of the Flesh (Reynolds-Hubley) Ken and I wrote two songs together, this and “Entertainer.” In both cases, I wrote the music and he wrote the lyrics, which I edited. He also sang lead — but not on this recording, where my scratch vocal one or twice tries to conjure up some Reynoldish qualities.
  • Sporting Life (Chapman) It’s back to the April Fool’s date — and the pre-Kathren portion of the set, to boot — for yet another version, crackling with musical energy and some sort of weird electronic phasing, of Steve’s song.
  • Little Cries (Hubley) This was the first number I wrote for the FJ — one marked by vitriolic lyrics about bedroom dishonesty and by insanely complicated chords. Both characteristics now seem more clever than meaningful, but “Little Cries” is another entry from the original FJ that stayed with the band throughout its eight years. It was exciting onstage, where the brittle lyrics got some protective cover from decibels and Ken Reynolds’ hot-yet-precise drumming kept hearts and hormones pumping.

“Censorship” copyright © 1981 by James Sullivan. “Little Cries” copyright © 1981 by Douglas L. Hubley. “Sporting Life,” “Dial M for Mamba” and “A Certain Hunger” all copyright © 1983 by Steven Chapman. “Pleasures of the Flesh” copyright © 1983 by Kenneth W. Reynolds and Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.

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

 

 

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