Notes From a Basement

By Doug Hubley: Sounds and reflections of a musical life

Archive for the tag “Downtown Lounge”

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.

Wheels Within Wheels: Chapman Joins the Fashion Jungle

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

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

(Go to the music.)

Existential commentators from the Roman tragedian Pacuvius* to Gene Clark have remarked on the wheel of fortune, the random engine of joy and suffering that seems to direct our lives. (*I never heard of him either. Thank you, Wikipedia.)

First you’re up, as Gene sang it, then you’re down again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hubley, Chapman, Reynolds. Hubley Archives.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Fashion Jungle: Late to the Party

The Mirrors had two Downtown Lounge dates in March 1980. I lost my voice for the second one. Hubley Archives.

New Wave music* finally hit the beach in Maine around 1979-80.

In those days, there must have been other places in Portland where the hip and cool met and mingled, but the first one I heard about was the Downtown Lounge, the legendary dance club in the Plaza Hotel, located on Preble Street about where the Public Market is now (itself fodder for nostalgia at this point; whole other story).


TLDR? Go straight to the Bandcamp EP!


If the Mirrors’ metamorphosis into the Fashion Jungle was bound to happen, there was no more efficacious catalyst than the DTL during its brief heyday in 1980. Suddenly there was a place in Portland where you could hear the newest and nowest sounds from the Northeast — Jonathan Richman, Robin Lane & the Chartbusters, Lou Miami and the Kozmetix. More important, impresario Will Jackson was so desperate for talent that local bands who previously couldn’t get arrested in square old Portland suddenly had a home.

The Mirrors were a cut above the couldn’t-get-arrested category, and we played the DTL a few times: among them an anti-nuclear power benefit, a “country night” with 25-cent draft beers for the band (no audience, but we had a blast) and Corner Night, when, as previously described in this space, the up-and-coming Foreign Students and Pathetix ate our lunch.

What the DTL did — for the Portland music scene, for four of the five Mirrors and for me personally — was provide one of those rare and so exciting views to not only a new and better world, but one that was completely accessible. There was absolutely no reason Portland couldn’t have cutting-edge music. No reason that Mike Piscopo, Ken Reynolds, Jim Sullivan and I couldn’t take our places in a scene where loud fast music about sex and politics would be embraced.

And no reason that I — well, what exactly? Well, no reason that I couldn’t be the man about town that, in 1980, I was suddenly qualified to be. Six months in college, 12 months of working (though not writing) at a newspaper and 12 of playing music in bars had exposed me to a lot of new ideas, new experiences and most important, new possibilities. My nerve endings had grown for miles in all sorts of new directions. And they were tingling.

In particular, after years of feeling invisible around women, I was suddenly an object of interest to them. This goes to your head, etc. At the time I was living with a woman whom I’d seduced unfairly and in error, proceeding on looks alone. And as the possibilities multiplied, the home fires dwindled. By the days of the DTL, the handwriting was on that wall too. Maybe it was just my stage of life and had nothing to do with the nightclub, but it’s also true that there is nothing like an exciting scene to excite a person.

I remember one time when after a particularly fun night at the club, several of us were standing around speculating about getting more DTL bookings. Will Jackson’s name was mentioned; the woman I was with said, “Well, Will Jackson isn’t God!” And I looked up and there was Will looking back at me. No, he wasn’t God, but we had common interests, and suddenly I realized that the woman and I had one less of those.

The original Fashion Jungle posing for a self-timer publicity shot in the Hubleys’ basement. From left: Doug Hubley, Ken Reynolds, Jim Sullivan, Mike Piscopo. Hubley Archives.

(Interestingly enough, on another night at the DTL, I spied among the dancers a dark-haired girl wearing striped coveralls and a keen perceptivity. “That’s someone I’d like to get to know,” I thought to myself. Eventually I did, in a class at USM — philosophy of art, of all things — and Gretchen Schaefer and I have been together ever since.)

The ironic thing was that while the DTL, in a sense, made the Fashion Jungle, the FJ never played there (at least under that name. In fact, singer Chris Hanson was absent for the Mirrors’ “country night” gig, making that an FJ gig in personnel if not in repertoire.) The FJ came into being in spring 1981, but by then the DTL was long gone, having collapsed in late 1980 during a rollicking stretch of time whose other events included my leaving my lover, Reagan getting elected president and John Lennon getting shot.

Well, there was nothing to be done about Reagan and Lennon. But Portland learned its lesson from the DTL, and thenceforth there was nearly always at least one joint where you could you catch music brainier than the usual club fare. For me it wasn’t so much about learning lessons: I was never a DTL insider, but the DTL got inside me. I simply walked in there as one person, and walked out as another.


Here are the remaining FJ demos from the beloved Reel 96. Personnel: Doug Hubley, Mike Piscopo, Ken Reynolds (drums on all tracks), Jim Sullivan. Recorded on the Sony TC540 in Ben and Hattie Hubley’s basement, South Portland, Maine, summer 1981.

  • Censorship (Sullivan) Another social commentary by Jim, who also plays the sax while I sing lead and play guitar. Jim was learning sax all the while the Mirrors were beating our way from country bar to country bar in Maine; I’d love to hear Jim’s thoughts on what influence his new instrument had on his interest in going the FJ way. Mike, bass.
  • Shortwave Radio (Hubley) I started writing the lyrics in an art history class at USM, and finished the song up over a gin gimlet in my sister’s living room on a sunny summer evening, Bob Newhart on the TV, volume muted. This stayed in the repertoire for more than 20 years, from the FJ through the Howling Turbines. Mike, bass; Jim, organ.
  • She Lives Downstairs (Hubley-Piscopo-Reynolds-Sullivan) Like “Dumb Models,” this was a product of the short-lived “song-per-week” phase when everyone tried to bring in at least a musical fragment that we could work with. This is based around a typically earnest KR lyric. Note the nods to “Gloria” and “Gimme Some Loving.” Doug, lead vocal, lead guitar. Mike, backing vocal, rhythm guitar (we were both playing Gretsches, hence the groovy sound). Jim, backing vocal, bass.
  • Keep on Smiling (Hubley) The push for original material was so insistent that I revived this song created in 1973, when I was mad at one of my friends. These lyrics are melodramatic but the overall sense of angst still works. The big anthemic ending turned into something of an FJ characteristic. Doug, Rickenbacker 12-string, vocal. Mike, backing vocal, bass. Jim, backing vocal, organ.
  • Nothing Works (Hubley) John Rolfe and I contrived a setting for my rather silly, but nihilistic in a still-pertinent way, lyrics in 1973. But for the FJ, wishing no encumbrances from the past, I devised a new tune. Doug, Rickenbacker 12-string, vocal. Mike, backing vocal, bass. Jim, backing vocal, organ.

“Censorship” copyright © 1981 by James Sullivan. “Shortwave Radio” copyright © 1981 by Douglas L. Hubley. “She Lives Downstairs” copyright © 2011 by Douglas Hubley, Michael Piscopo, Kenneth Reynolds and James Sullivan. “Keep on Smiling” and “Nothing Works” copyright © 2010 by Douglas Hubley. All rights reserved.


* In this sense, referring less to the major label-supported “safe” responses to punk and more to the wild embrace of all kinds of music, from reggae to ’60s pop, that seemed to retain some kind of integrity.

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

‘Faster, Louder, More Fun!*’ The Fashion Jungle Arrives

 

The summer of 1981 is all here: It’s Patty Anne’s Superette in South Portland, Jeff Stanton is taking the photo, the original Fashion Jungle is posing casually just prior to a party performance at Sebago Lake. And the automobile: my beloved 1973 VW Squareback, into which I could pack nearly all the FJ gear except the drums. Photo by Jeff Stanton.


Experience the lifelike sounds of the Fashion Jungle at the Bandcamp store!


There’s a great paradox in looking back at the original Fashion Jungle.

The band was founded in 1981 by four young men in Portland, Maine, who were hastening to stake a claim in the local punk-New Wave scene — a scene whose complex and moralistic aesthetics frowned on nostalgia, along with other soggy sentiments.

So how, after three decades, do I review a year that was one of the best of my life? If there’s even a whiff of nostalgia’s room-freshener scent in this post, have I betrayed everything we stood for?

On a day when I’m feeling my age, 1981 holds plenty of golden memories. There was more musical excitement in our band than we had ever felt. The scene was poised to welcome us with open arms. My personal life was in ecstatic tumult. I was insane from lack of sleep and too much Ballantine XXX ale. I loved my car. The sun shone everyday. And I had just become a published writer, covering music for the local newspaper. (Read the article that began my journalistic career.)

But I disgust myself. Nostalgia really is kind of gross, almost prurient in its quest for easy gratification. So I will try to choose my path through these memories carefully.

The Mirrors were victims of our own success. As I’ve noted previously in this space, we worked a lot in 1980, and the result was a musical momentum that brought out the divergent interests in the band, like an airplane flying faster than its structure can bear. We became more electric, more heavily rhythmic, more lyrically edgy, all qualities that made us harder to book in Slim Andrews’ country bars, and qualities that increasingly made Chris less a part of the band.

Those irrepressible boys! The original Fashion Jungle posing for a self-timer publicity shot in the Hubleys’ basement. From left: Doug Hubley, Ken Reynolds, Jim Sullivan, Mike Piscopo. Hubley Archives.

At the same time, Ken Reynolds, Mike Piscopo and Jim Sullivan — drummer, multi-instrumentalist, multi-instrumentalist, in that order — were following the local punk–New Wave scene and saw more creative gratification, if less paying work, in that direction. I saw the light, as also previously mentioned, at the first Corner Night. It took place in August 1980 at the Downtown Lounge, a bar at the Plaza Hotel that for one shining year was like the Cavern Club of Portland’s hip&cool scene. We shared the bill with the Pathetix, featuring Mike’s brother Gary and making their debut, and the Foreign Students, led by my former bandmate John Rolfe, who wore a hard hat and screamed John Cale songs until his voice was raw.

The Mirrors, closing the night, were fine. But the other bands were wild. They were electric and kinetic. In front of Portland’s newly emergent hipsters, a crowd that cut a sharp contrast in so many ways with the cozy mainstream bar scene whence we came, we ended up looking like chumps with our smooth all-things-to-all-people (read: nothing to nobody) approach.

And while the Mirrors (aka Karl Rossmann Band, in our final months) hung on till March 1981, the writing was on the wall, as we recorded demos of songs by Elvis Costello, the Specials, the English Beat and others that gave Chris little to do.

The Mirrors’ last date was on a snowy March night at the Cracked Platter in Harrison. (Owner, after many of the songs: “That wasn’t too good.”) Then we let Chris go.

I saw a listing for a movie called The Garment Jungle, and somehow we twisted it around to Fashion Jungle. I remember the four of us agreeing on that name at a party in Cape Elizabeth, grinning like idiots and shaking hands. (Piscopo got us into great parties.)

Our friend Kathren Torraca, who would later play keys for the Pathetix and, yes, the FJ, designed our first logo, a female leg in camouflage hose with the band name in scarlet.

What we also shook hands on, figuratively if not literally, was that the FJ would focus on original material. This was part of that punk-New Wave aesthetic that we were signing onto; and frankly, at that point, ceasing to be a covers band was like shedding a too-tight skin. Writing songs became the order of the day. It was a good, if too-brief, introduction to the stimulating effect that the demand for material has on your musical mind.

And, while I had collaborated on songs before, with the Fashion Jungle I first discovered how pleasurable it is to learn a brand-new song, or write one, with other musicians — adding, subtracting, shaping, refining and learning how to exist together inside it, like lovers learning to inhabit their first apartment together.


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. Photo: Jeff Stanton.

These four songs come from the sainted Reel 96, a collection of demos of our original material recorded during the glorious (ack! nostalgia’s getting to me!) summer of 1981. KR, drums on all selections.

  • Dumb Models (Hubley-Piscopo-Reynolds-Sullivan) A short-lived Fashion Jungle rule was that everyone had to bring in at least a fragment of original music each week. Here’s a result of that discipline: the lyrics are by KR, edited by me; the opening guitar riff was Piscopo’s; and we collectively put the whole thing together. It was one of our smash hits during that ecstatic summer of 1981, which is when it was recorded at Hubleys’. DH, 12-string guitar, lead vocal; MP, rhythm guitar, backing vocal; KR, backing vocal; JS, bass, backing vocal. Ba-bah-bah-bah!
  • Peacetime Hero (Sullivan) Jim’s distinctive contributions to the FJ catalog were sophisticated musical structures and politically attuned lyrics. Here he puts himself into the mind of a killer who can find no other way to have a place in society. For years after Jim’s departure, this remained in the FJ repertoire. JS, rhythm guitar, vocal; MP, bass; DH, lead guitar.
  • Little Cries (Hubley) Where Ken’s lyrics went in search of upstanding women and Jim’s took on the political right wing, I was negotiating the tangled politics of the bedroom (not to mention tangled contortions in guitar chording). This was the first song I wrote for the FJ. DH, 12-string guitar, vocal; JS, sax and backing vocal; MP, bass and backing vocal.
  • Fashion Jungle Theme (Hubley-Piscopo-Reynolds-Sullivan) See “Dumb Models.” Untangling the roots of this song is no mean feat, but I will say that (a) KR and I liked the conga-line rhythm because Curly Howard of the Three Stooges was so funny dancing to it (b) we all liked to make fun of disco and (c) we thought that high-speed ska was the coolest beat ever. Why we felt we needed a theme song is a whole other question. DH, guitar; JS, sax; MP, bass.

“Dumb Models” and “Fashion Jungle Theme” copyright © 2011 by Douglas Hubley, Michael Piscopo, Kenneth Reynolds, James Sullivan. “Peacetime Hero” copyright © 1981 by James Sullivan. “Little Cries” copyright 1981 © by Douglas Hubley. All rights reserved.

*Marketing slogan for the Downtown Lounge.

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

We’ll Be Your Mirrors

The Mirrors at the Downtown Lounge, 1980.

The Mirrors at the Downtown Lounge, 1980. From left: Jim Sullivan, Mike Piscopo, Chris Hanson, Doug Hubley. Concealed by Chris is drummer Ken Reynolds. Photographer unknown.

In music, as in so many other things, I can’t make up my mind.

In virtually every style* of music I hear, I hear something to like**.

And because I want to play music that I want to hear, my stylistic promiscuity has been a problem over the years. Not all listeners, or bandmates, are as restless as I am. And in any case, extreme eclecticism is difficult to pull off. It requires strong chops, discerning taste and the kind of musical personality that can unify disparate influences. (Well, one out of three is better than none: I have pretty good taste.)

My current band, Day for Night, plays only country — but when we were starting out, in the mid-2000s, we had a country set and a bossa nova set. Because it took me about two months, on average, to work out a new bossa nova song (lacking the strong chops, you see) the set became stale and we got realistic and bagged it. I don’t know where we ever could have performed a night of bossa nova and country, anyway.

But back in the day I wasn’t so sensible. The Mirrors, my first somewhat professional band, had the eclecticism problem about as bad as could be. The arc of a typical Mirrors performance was reasonable enough, starting out blue and quiet, ending red and electric. But in between we veered all over the map.

A Mirrors set list from 1980, handwritten by Ken Reynolds (click to embiggen). Hubley Archives.

The set list at right, from 1980, will give you some idea. It includes:

  • Country songs by Gram Parsons with Emmylou Harris and the Flying Burrito Bros., Hank Williams, George Jones, Don Williams, Patsy Cline, Asleep at the Wheel
  • Blues and R&B by Bonnie Raitt, Bessie Smith, Elvis Presley, the Clovers, Otis Redding
  • Vintage pop and rock by Presley, the Searchers, Carl Perkins, the Rolling Stones, ? and the Mysterians, the Ventures, the Monkees, Bobby Troupe, Johnny Rivers, the Rascals, Bo Diddley
  • Then-contemporary rock by the Fabulous Poodles (their interpretation of the Everly Brothers’ “Man With Money”), Elvis Costello, Robin Lane and the Chartbusters, the Specials, the English Beat (their version of Smokey Robinson’s “Tears of a Clown”), Madness, Pat Benatar, Graham Parker
  • And songs by the Velvet Underground, Richard Thompson, Jimmy Cliff and Frank Sinatra.

All that jumping around, in addition to a penchant for instrument-swapping that seriously slowed the pace, must have made some early Mirrors performances exasperating. (I still cringe at the memory of taking long minutes to retune the guitars to the Farfisa rock organ for the sake of one or two songs.) I remember someone’s graffiti in the men’s room of the original Downtown Lounge, in the Plaza Hotel: “The Mirrors suck.”

I guess I can see why someone would say that, in view of one or two of our DTL performances: an anti-nuclear-power benefit where I had laryngitis but tried to sing anyway, or the 1980 Corner Night where we were fine, but just hopelessly tame compared to the Foreign Students and the Pathetix. And we had other issues in addition to the stylistic indecisiveness.

A 1980 Mirrors set list handwritten by Chris Hanson (click to embiggen). Hubley Archives.

But in spite of sucking, which we really didn’t most of the time, the Mirrors always got work. In 1980, our last year together, working for Maine country impresario Slim Andrews as well as getting our own dates, we were gigging all the time, from Kittery, in southern Maine, to Guilford, 182 miles away. Venues ranged from the punkish DTL (located in the Plaza, which stood where the Portland Public Market building is now) to York Animal Kingdom.

And, as will happen, we learned a lot and got a lot better, not only musically but professionally (even if we did ignore Slim’s injunctions against drinking and wearing sneakers on stage).

So, yes, looking back, I see things we could have done differently. But overall I don’t regret the way it played out. In the greater perspective, in fact, the Mirrors served me, and I hope some of my bandmates, the way your first big failed affair serves the remainder of your love life. It teaches you how to do what’s right and how not to do what isn’t, all on the stage of a grand romantic fantasy that gradually becomes your reality.

And in the short term, the Mirrors led directly to the Fashion Jungle. Among the things we learned were the facts that we wanted to concentrate on rock — and on our own material. About which, more next time.


Here are two of the three original songs the Mirrors ever performed, all by yours truly. Someday, when I am in a mood to give the Harry Fox Agency large dollars to license other peoples’ music, I will post a few Mirrors covers as well.

You Know How It Is (Hubley) Here’s a lament about the working life drawn from my own experiences as a sensitive young artiste destroying my soul as a “materials handler” (stockboy) at the South Portland branch of the Jordan Marsh department store. Jordan Marsh is gone, and I am still here. The Mirrors at the Hourglass, Free Street, Portland, August 1979.

Maine State Pier Blues (Hubley) Ken Reynolds and I somehow got the impression that all the street alcoholics hung out on Maine State Pier.  This naive narrative, which Chris Hanson once called “preachy,” presages my current dissipation, but is uncorrected for the salubrious effects of self-consciousness and affluence. Note the Silvertone with Barcus-Berry pickup. The Mirrors at Friendship III, Dec. 30, 1979.

“You Know How It Is” and “Maine State Pier Blues” copyright © 2010 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.

The Mirrors*, 1979-1981

Christine Hanson, vocals and percussion
Doug Hubley, guitar, bass, organ and vocals
Mike Piscopo, bass, guitar, organ and vocals
Ken Reynolds, drums and vocals
Jim Sullivan, fiddle, guitar, bass, organ, saxophone and vocals

*In our last months, we were known as the Karl Rossmann Band, after the protagonist in Kafka’s Amerika. We were sick of the name “Mirrors” and used a ranked-ballot system to select a new one. The other contenders included “Goats of the Trapezoid,” Ken’s tribute to Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, and “Cadence.”


* Chainsaw metal, ragtime and pop a cappella being towering exceptions.
** People who know me well may be laughing at this point, having heard me mutter “I hate this song” or “I hate this group” repeatedly anywhere music can be heard. Yes, I’m annoyingly picky about specific songs and musicians, and in fact dislike most of them. But here I’m talking about musical styles.

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

The Mirrors, 1979: Jim Sullivan, Chris Hanson, Doug Hubley, Mike Piscopo, Ken Reynolds. Photo by Nancy Hubley.

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