Notes From a Basement

By Doug Hubley: Sounds and reflections of a musical life

Archive for the tag “Michael Piscopo”

Fashion Jungle: Late to the Party

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Here are the remaining FJ demos from the beloved Reel 96. Personnel: Doug Hubley, Mike Piscopo, Ken Reynolds (drums on all tracks), Jim Sullivan. Recorded in the Hubleys’ basement, summer 1981.

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

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


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

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

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

 

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

*Marketing slogan for the Downtown Lounge.

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

We’ll Be Your Mirrors

The Mirrors at the Downtown Lounge, 1980.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

  • You Know How It Is (Hubley) Here’s a lament about the working life drawn from my own experiences as a sensitive young artiste destroying my soul as a “materials handler” (stockboy) at the South Portland branch of Jordan Marsh. Jordan Marsh is gone, and I am still here. The Mirrors at the Hourglass, Free Street, Portland, August 1979.
  • Maine State Pier Blues (Hubley) Ken Reynolds and I somehow got the impression that all the street alcoholics hung out on Maine State Pier.  This naive narrative, which Chris Hanson once called “preachy,” presages my current dissipation, but is uncorrected for the salubrious effects of self-consciousness and affluence. Note the Silvertone with Barcus-Berry pickup. The Mirrors at Friendship III, Dec. 30, 1979.

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

The Mirrors*, 1979-1981

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

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


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

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

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

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