Notes From a Basement

By Doug Hubley: Sounds and reflections of a musical life

Archive for the tag “Kathren Torraca”

From the Vault: Memos and Demos

The setup for a songwriting session at the Maine Idyll motor court in Freeport, Maine, October 2017. Hubley Archives.

Skip the wordy blabbington and hightail it directly to the Bandcamp album or even the Nimbit album!


Sometime in the fall

of 1972 I wrote a song called “Waiting.” I was 18 and the lyrics of “Waiting” were correspondingly melodramatic, but the music had possibilities in a Jefferson Airplane kind of way. In any case, at the time I thought it was just fine.

My band at the time was Airmobile (named for a song by Tim Hardin and Artie Butler — um, and Chuck Berry), and my bandmates were singer-guitarist John Rolfe, bassist Tom Berg and drummer Eddie Greco. We rehearsed in Eddie’s garage in Cape Elizabeth and played a few dates at the South Portland Rec Center and similar milestone-on-the-road-to-fame engagements.

I wanted the band to learn “Waiting,” and so in December I recorded a demo in my parents’ basement. Wow! Awful! There’s some decent lead guitar (Neil Young and Jorma Kaukonen much? etc.), but limited exposure is the only way to survive this recording — distorted, shrill, badly sung and drenched with reverb.

 I am providing an excerpt anyway, but not because I think you’ll enjoy it.

Remnants of an Airmobile, together again for the last time at a party at John Rolfe’s apartment in the 1980s. From left, Ed Greco, Doug Hubley, John Rolfe. Jeff Stanton photo.

We never did add “Waiting” to our repertoire, because the song is no root beer float and the demo sure doesn’t help it. But it does have the dubious distinction of being the first demo labeled as such in The Tape Catalog, the contents list of all my hundreds of homemade recordings.

As a demo, “Waiting” has scant company in the reel-to-reel section of the catalog, maybe four or five songs. (As a bad recording of a cringeworthy piece of music, however, it has all kinds of company.) There wasn’t much need for demos: I’ve never been a prolific songwriter, for one thing. And anyway, in the days when I was playing with electric bands, it was just as easy to teach my occasional creations to the group at rehearsal.

“Waiting” in the Tape Catalog. The weird “HSE” emblem is the Hubley Seal of Approval, reserved for tracks that I wouldn’t have been embarrassed to play for company in the mid-1970s. “PEA Source” and “Tear Source” indicate that these cuts appeared on the “Forty Years of a Basement” compilations Phoney English Accent and Tear in Every Eye, respectively. The Post-It was telling me there was usable material on this tape. The “ha, ha” — well, ha, ha.

For many years, when I did rise to the level of demo’ing a song, that may have been more about my state of mind than anything else. Hence the 1983 version of “Nothing to Say” (below) that, for me and the Gretsch Anniversary Model, is a sustained howl as much as it is a teaching tool.

A four-track recorder that I obtained in 1994 encouraged me to develop more of a demo habit. It was the first recorder I’d had since 1987 that enabled me to overdub and, better yet, no tedious-but-perilous bouncing was needed to layer up three or four tracks, in contrast to the Sony reel-to-reel two-track I’d used for so long. (Bouncing is the technique of mixing multiple recorded tracks onto a blank track so you can reuse the first tracks for new parts. For me in the 1970s, this involved mixing the two Sony tracks onto a cassette recorder and then recording parts back onto the Sony alongside that mixdown.) 

Suddenly I was back to building arrangements on tape, and I liked it as much as ever.

The band at that time was the Boarders, featuring Gretchen Schaefer, my partner then and now, on bass and Jonathan Nichols-Pethick on drums. In contrast to its covers-heavy predecessor outfit, the Cowlix, this trio developed a fair amount of originals and therefore had more use for demos. I had a few new or re-conceived songs, and Jon had a couple others that I interfered with — er, contributed to — with the four-track coming in handy.

Like demos often do, these reveal facets or details of the songs that got lost along the way, and it’s fun to compare what stayed and what sloughed off. And then there are memos: scratch recordings, often fragmentary, that those of us who can’t read or write music make to remember important bits, like melodies. 

In the musical world 

there is nothing special about demos and memos, and I’m riding in a commuter van writing this and trying to figure out how such recordings relate to my fixation on material objects, notably documents in whatever medium, and their role as anchors of memory.

My memo-and-demo machine of choice: The Zoom H4n stands ready in Colorado. Hubley Archives.

Such recordings are not the keys to total recall, but most of the demos presented here do retain at least a vestige of their making, if only the glow from the metal-shaded lamp I use in the basement. Better than no memories at all. 

There was a little outbreak of demo fever in the early 1980s, as Bruce Springsteen chose to issue his Nebraska material in the form of the original demos rather than as produced versions with the E Street Band; and Peter Townshend released Scoop, a demo compilation of songs first released (or not) by the Who. These raised my demo consciousness a bit, which probably explains the “Nothing to Say” recording. 

But ultimately, for me there are thin lines or no lines at all dividing memos, demos and performances, especially if you view, as I do, all recordings of a song (or of all songs) as threads in a common fabric whose variations all tint and reflect each other’s light. 

Phenomena like hit singles or TV performances that change a viewer’s life (does that still happen?) can instill the idea of songs having “definitive” versions. And so they may be — in broad cultural terms. (We’ve all got ’em, although I may be distinctive in my affection for the wrong note Chris Hillman plays for half a bar in “Spanish Harlem Incident” on Mr. Tambourine Man. On the basis of no evidence, I’m convinced he needed a drag off a cigarette.)

Patch bays in the basement enable me to “associate many things with many things,” as Bunny Watson said. Hubley Archives.

But from a narrower musical perspective, “definitive version” is almost a laughable idea. (And of course there are also laughable versions that are definitive in their own ways, if only as examples of what not to do. Welcome to my musical catalog.)

Every performance of a song listens to the one that came before and sings to the one that follows. It’s trite and not quite correct to say, “It’s all one version,” but all the performances of a song certainly do constitute one conversation about at least that one topic and probably more.

Which may be one reason that the more interesting professional musicians can sell their hits night after night.

Here’s the real difference, I guess: Unless you’re super-attuned to the stewardship of your public persona, the monetizing of every sequin on your character, etc., what distinguishes memos and demos is that they’re not created for an audience. And when they are heard outside your immediate circle, it’s more like being overheard, with all the accompanying qualities of authenticity, honesty, etc.

So, for your eavesdropping pleasure, here’s an assortment of demos and memos from a 30-year period, coupled with fully realized performances of the songs.

Song Notes

Day for Night in Cornish, Maine: Doug Hubley and Gretchen Schaefer. Hubley Archives.

‘The Other Me’

Day for Night: Dirges had constituted most of my output after I resumed songwriting, in 2010, after a 12-year layoff. So when I started this song in 2016, it was time for something upbeat. “The Other Me” is still wordy, bleak and overly self-referential, but it has a good beat and you can dance to it.

I got most of the lyrics written in the bar of the Samoset Resort, in Rockport, Maine, while Gretchen Schaefer (my partner in life and music) was showing mosaics at a craft fair at the resort. But the tune, especially the bridge, was problematic and I had to hammer away at it for quite a while.

“The Other Me” was also a bear to learn, necessitating a few changes of key and arrangement before we found something that we liked. And this is it, recorded on Aug. 5, 2018, at Quill Books & Beverage in Westbrook, Maine. Hear it on Bandcamp (and click through on the audio player title to purchase):

DemoRecorded on Oct. 2, 2016, in the computer room, this memo includes one of a few bridge melodies that I tried and discarded before arriving at something usable later in the month. Hear (and buy) it on Bandcamp:


 (“The Other Me” copyright © 2017 by Doug Hubley. All rights reserved.)


‘Dumb Models’

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

The Fashion JungleThis isn’t a demo, it’s a memo. When my band the Mirrors became the Fashion Jungle, a 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 Ken Reynolds, edited by me; the opening guitar riff was Mike Piscopo’s; and with the fourth member of the band being Jim Sullivan, we collectively put the whole thing together in June 1981. We made this seldom-heard recording early in the song’s life so as not to forget it during our vacations.

A billy nice guy? Never mind. Anyway, we later added chorus vocals and a “bah-bah-bah” coda, very 1968. Doug Hubley, 12-string guitar and vocal; Mike Piscopo, 6-string guitar (lead guitar in the refrain); Ken Reynolds, drums; Jim Sullivan, bass. Recorded on the Sony two-track in the Hubleys’ basement (and I don’t know where that tone at the end came from). Bandcamp:

The next Fashion Jungle: And here we are more than a year later and with the next iteration of the FJ: Jim and Mike have moved on, and Steve Chapman has joined on bass. The performance was recorded at Jim’s Neighborhood Cafe, Danforth Street, on Oct. 6, 1982. I miss the growl of Mike’s Gretsch guitar, but Steve provides his own kind of roar. 

(“Dumb Models” copyright © 2011 by Douglas Hubley, Michael Piscopo, Kenneth Reynolds and James Sullivan. All rights reserved. )


‘Watching You Go’

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

DemoThe immediate impetus for this song seems a little immature — the death of my cat Harry. But I did realize that this was a topic to be addressed at a more sophisticated level, and fortunately I was able to generalize the lyrics somewhat beyond “my kitty died.” (He was a pretty cool cat, though.)

I suppose I was looking ahead to a period such as this, in which I’ve lost my mother, father and a good friend in the space of two years. But I can’t say I’ve wanted to sing this song much lately.

Recorded in the basement in autumn 1995 on the Tascam 4-track. Tracks: acoustic guitar, voice, and percussion consisting of my foot and change being jingled in my pockets. Bandcamp:

The Boarders: On a windy and rainy Jan. 19, 1996, we performed live on the University of Southern Maine radio show “Local Motives.” It was almost a fun experience, except for an inept audio engineer who suppressed Gretchen’s bass almost to the vanishing point on many songs (it was recoverable on this number) and slathered digital reverb and delay all over us (at the beginning of this track, you can hear the doofus  searching for the correct tempo on the delay). Jon Nichols-Pethick, drums. Bandcamp:

(“Watching You Go” copyright © 1996 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.)


‘Corner Night’

Gretchen Schaefer, Dan Knight and Jeff Stanton at Frosty’s doughnut shop, Brunswick, July 1985. We were in Brunswick to see a 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.

Demo: This song is an attempt to come to grips with the fleeting nature of local rock bands and local fame, or at least recognition, of the kind the Fashion Jungle briefly enjoyed in the 1980s. Corner Night itself was actually a show, a triple bill that the Mirrors / Fashion Jungle, John Rolfe’s Foreign Students and Gary Piscopo’s Pathetix presented in 1980 and ’81. All three bands had ties to Patty Ann’s Superette, aka The Corner, in South Portland.

I wrote the words in 1981 after Mike Piscopo and Jim Sullivan left the Fashion Jungle, and finished the song after Steve Chapman and Kathren Torraca left in 1984. The song holds up — one of my better melodies, although the lyrics are very insidery. Yes, the Elvis Costello imitation is embarrassing, and there’s also some debt to Ray Davies’ “Waterloo Sunset.” This demo was recorded on the two-track Sony in my parents’ basement in 1985 for the Dan Knight lineup of the FJ. Bandcamp:

The Fashion Jungle: And here’s the Knight-era FJ performing the song at Geno’s, in Portland, on July 27, 1985. We were opening for Judy’s Tiny Head, and taping the show off their sound board helped some with recording quality. What is an interesting and intricate arrangement on the demo turns into a busyness for its own sake here, but kudos to bassist Dan and drummer Ken Reynolds for taking all those twists and turns so tightly. 

(“Corner Night” copyright © 2010 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.)


‘I Never Drink Alone’

Songwriting in the bar at the Senator Inn and Spa in late 2012. Hubley Archives.

When we perform, I like to joke that this is the most depressing song I’ve ever written, most depressing you’ll ever hear, etc. I say it to be funny but also to show some self-awareness, because this really is a downer.

Hubley Archives.

Well, that’s life: This, like “Watching You Go,” is an attempt to anticipate or envision or reconcile myself to — or try to inoculate myself against — the potentially barren landscape of old age. I wrote it in 2012, during which year my sisters and Gretchen and I were starting preparations for moving Ben and Hattie Hubley, who were in their early 90s, into a memory-care facility.[/caption]

Day for Night: Recorded in a living room rehearsal on Nov. 27, 2016. 

Memo: This is a hotel room recording made so I could remember the melody. (One wonders if there was any sort of decline in sales of music notation paper that was correlated with the advent of portable audio recorders.) I made the recording in the Sheraton Hotel in Portsmouth, N.H., on Feb. 23, 2012. 


(“I Never Drink Alone” copyright © 2014 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.)


‘Tragedy’

Demo: The second original in the catalog from Jonathan Nichols-Pethick, drummer of the Boarders, who had previously contributed “All Over” to the Cowlix. He co-wrote this song with his wife, Nancy. I added a signature riff and a few lyrics, and heightened the S&M overtones a bit (or so I would like to believe). 

Recorded in the basement in autumn 1995 on the Tascam 4-track. Tracks: acoustic guitars and voice. 

The Boarders: And here’s the whole band playing it, recorded in rehearsal on Dec. 5, 1995. Dropped line: “You say, ‘I need another drink.'” 


(“Tragedy” copyright © 1995 by Jonathan Nichols-Pethick, Nancy Nichols-Pethick and Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.)

Nancy, at center, and Jonathan Nichols-Pethick at their farewell party in July 1996. At left is Louise Philbrick. Hubley Archives.


‘Just a Word From You, Sir’

Howling Turbines: If you’re wondering, this number from 1997 is generally about my relationship with authority and specifically about Stalin, Leonard Cohen and God. So there.

Anyhoo, this is the first of two very different versions of a song (one of two) I wrote for the Howling Turbines. Here’s the original setting, which was an attempt to capitalize on what I perceived as our heavy-rock potential (I had bought a distortion pedal that changed my world). Performed by the Turbines in the basement in March 1998. Bandcamp:

Demo: I prefer the above version now, but at the time we didn’t feel it was working for us. This demo from April 11, 1999, captures my second setting of the song, which is more sophisticated than the original but ultimately reminded me of something Davy Jones should be singing. This is how the Turbines did it for a while, but it ultimately fell out of the repertoire. 


(“Just a Word From You, Sir” copyright 2010 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.)

The Howling Turbines on a blistering hot day at the Free Street Taverna, Aug. 1, 1999: from left, drummer Ken Reynolds, bassist Gretchen Schaefer and me — guitarist and singer Doug Hubley. Photo by Jeff Stanton.


‘Dance’

Dance House

House of Dances, Cologne, Germany, June 2000. Hubley Archives.

Demo / The Boarders: Just to round things out, here’s a demo and a final version neatly packaged together. “Dance” started out with with the Fashion Jungle, my lyrics riding on a tune created collaboratively by Steve Chapman, Ken Reynolds and me. Six or seven years later, casting about for material for the Boarders and feeling no more optimistic about the fate of the world, I rediscovered these lyrics, for which I created a new tune. 

The first third is the demo that I made for Gretchen and Jonathan to learn it from; the remainder, cleverly spliced on through the cleverness of digital audio editing, is the Boarders playing the song on July 9, 1996, at Forest Avenue. The Boarders section is a copy of a copy that was made on a mastering deck with a wow-and-flutter problem, hence the wowing and fluttering. 


(“Dance” (Boarders version) copyright © 2010 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.)

The Fashion Jungle: And here’s the original setting. Sounding very FJ at our most melodramatically disco-licious, this came off the sound board at the 1988 Maine Festival, recorded on a sultry August evening in Deering Oaks. That was a fine event despite my guitar-tuning issues. I rediscovered this recording while going through tapes for this CD set; most of the cuts on the tape were lost or damaged because of a bad connection, but this survived intact, albeit with drums taking up 80 percent of the soundscape.

(“Dance” (Fashion Jungle version) copyright © 2013 by Steven Chapman, Douglas Hubley and Kenneth Reynolds. All rights reserved.)


Doug plays the Gretsch Anniversary Model in Ben and Hattie’s back yard in summer 1983. Hubley Family photo.

‘Nothing to Say’

Demo: I remember stepping out onto Middle Street from the restaurant Carbur’s carrying the legal pad on which I had just finished these lyrics, which attempt to explore both my own shallowness and the big sellout of the punk-New Wave scene.

This one-track recording, made in September 1983 at Richland Street with the Gretsch Anniversary Model, was the demo that the FJ learned it from — another big anthem. Dropped line: “Now the room fills up with expectations while my blood drains away.” 

The Fashion Jungle: The fully realized version by the Chapman-Torraca lineup of the Fashion Jungle, recorded in January 1984 at the Outlook, in Bethel. The lyrics sit better in this well-rehearsed performance, but the arrangement certainly has blossomed forth. The Anniversary Model returns for a solo. Steve Chapman, bass and backing vocals; DH, guitars and vocals; Ken Reynolds, drums and backing vocals; Kathren Torraca, keyboards. Remastered from the commercially released audiocassette Six Songs.


(“Nothing to Say” copyright © 1984 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.)

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.

Notes From a Basement text copyright © 2012–2018 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.

Fashion Jungle: Knights and Free-lances

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

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

See two galleries of 1985 images:

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


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

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

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

‘Creative renaissance’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Knight comes in

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boozeness meetings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interlude: 10 Million Papers

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


Skip philosophizing! Go directly to music!

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


See the Archives page, offering way too much information.

Dating myself

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

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

Self-portrait with Sony TC-540, 1982.

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

The documents in the case

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

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

Some of the tapes.

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

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

Tickets, please

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

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

eo

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

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

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

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

The documents give and the documents take away.


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


See the Archives page, offering way too much information.

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

Incidentals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


See the Archives page, offering way too much information.

This is it

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


See images from the times before and between bands.


See the Archives page, offering way too much information.

 

 

Fashion Jungle: End of the Affair

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

No text! Go straight to music!


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

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

“It’s deja vu all over again.”

― Yogi Berra, master of quotable quotes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Six Songs: Fashion Jungle in Studio, Part II

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Gee, whatever happened to those few bucks?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


See galleries from the Outlook sessions. Text continues below.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

Ken and Kathren. Gretchen Schaefer photo.

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

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

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 attempt at 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 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).

I don’t have a record of what the venue was called when we played this show with
(I think) the Neighborhoods — or was it Lou Miami & The Kozmetix? — on April 1, 1983. This was our second public performance with Kathren, who had absorbed part of the repertoire at that point. (She debuted with us at Kayo’s the previous month.) The mix comes off the soundboard and is quite good aside from a strange phasing 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.

“Censorship” copyright © 1981 by James Sullivan. “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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