Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Friend Writes...

The other day, you may recall, we were talking about the amazing Bonzo Dog Band (I forget the context -- Listomania, probably) and I happened to mention that I had been lucky enough to see them during their only (1969) American tour (triple billed with The Kinks and Spirit at the old Fillmore East. Yes, those were the days.)

The Bonzos, of course, were pound for pound the funniest satirical rock band ever seen or heard by sentient mammalian eyes and ears, and don't give me any of that The Mothers or The Tubes or whoever shit 'cause I don't want to hear it.

Anyway, shortly thereafter I got an e-mail from my old pal Gregory Fleeman, still pound for pound the funniest serious satirical rock songwriter ever seen or heard blah blah blah.

Turns out Greg had his own encounter with the Bonzos back in the day, and I thought I'd share it with you, as it's fascinating on several historical levels.

Wrote Greg:

In 1969, I was a freshman at American University, and as my extracurricular activity I worked at the college radio station -- WAMU, or as we referred to it,“W A M All Over U.” That kind of thing passed for wit in my younger days.

The best word I can use to describe WAMU is “retrograde”. The station manager was REALLY into Steve and Eydie, Al Martino, etc. This was, what, 2 years after the Summer of Love, which clearly did not affect AU at all -- I was required to wear a Freshman Beanie for Rush Week (which lasted about 45 seconds on my particular calendar…) Anyway, the point I am trying to make is that I was considered quite the freak at the radio station, being into things like The Bonzos or Randy Newman or The Beatles. Also, stealing records from the radio station that no one else played became the basis of my record collection.

At some point, I somehow found out that the Bonzos were going to play the Fillmore East, so I decided to make my debut as a “rock journalist.” I had no fucking idea what to do, so I just called up Liberty Records and told the receptionist that I was a disc jockey in Washington, DC, and I would like to interview the Bonzo Dog Band, if you please. She said, “One moment please,” and the next thing I knew I was connected to someone in the publicity department –- someone who clearly had nothing better to do than sit around waiting for assholes like me to call. The guy said sure, you can go see the Bonzos, and in no short order I had tickets to two shows AND BACKSTAGE PASSES for the upcoming Fillmore East dates.

I had no idea it was that easy.

I borrowed a tape recorder from the music department (without their knowledge), hitchhiked to NYC and eventually found myself backstage interviewing my idols. Wow, Vivian Stanshall and Neil Innes are talking to ME! (Of course, in retrospect, nobody else was back there interviewing them –- clearly, the PR guy had found them a bit of a hard sell.) Anyway, they were very pleasant and funny and we made arrangements to continue the interview at their hotel on Sunday. When I got there on Sunday, they all seemed sort of depressed. I asked them why they were so sad, and there was an awkward silence. Finally, Vivian Stanshall replied, “Well, we just broke up, you see.” I could only think, “This is an amazing scoop. I am the first “journalist” with this astonishing news, AND I HAVE NO ONE TO TELL IT TO." Rather sad, that.

I think they did one or two more contractual gigs, and then they went home.

One sort of amusing postscript: This was the first time The Kinks had played NYC in years (having been banned by the Musicians Union for whatever reason) and at one point, while walking around backstage with my little tape recorder, I accidentally wandered into The Kinks dressing room, and found myself face to face with…Ray Davies! I was rather stunned at this turn of events. I said to Mr. Davies, “May I interview you?” He graciously agreed. It was only then that I realized that I was so starstruck at meeting Ray Davies that I had NO FUCKING IDEA WHAT TO ASK HIM. I stammered a bit and finally coughed up that hoary old standby, the sine qua non of lame rock interview questions, “Who would you say are your biggest influences?”

Ray paused, smiled gently,said “I think Mick Avory can answer that,” and then got up and left the room.

I still find that funny.

Me too, Greg, me too.

And as another hopefully equally amusing postscript, please enjoy this fan video for the Bonzo's hilarious "The Intro and the Outro."

Digging General DeGaulle on accordion...!!!


The Phantom Creep said...

I was at one of those Fillmore shows.

You forgot to mention that the Kinks stunk on ice, and I say that as the hugest Kinks fan in the world. Seriously, they were embarassingly terrible...

Gummo said...

I discovered the Bonzos my freshman year in college, which would be '73-74 -- don't know how I found out about them -- read about them, probably, or maybe knew about Neil Innes' connection with Python? -- but I bought the 2-disk "best of" and was blown away. Funny, smart, downright scary sometimes -- never been anything like them before or since, and more's the pity.

Noam Sane said...

Great story. Sad that things fell apart for them, but they were never gonna make any real money and tour in comfort. Too good.

I'm not sure why I bought "Keynsham" and "Gorilla" when I was in high school...but I ordered them from a Sam Goody ad in the back of the NY Times Arts & Leisure section. Had to get my mom to cut a check, send it off in the mail, wait 4-6 weeks for delivery.

Getting records in the mail...another great thing that kids these days will never experience.

dave™© said...

Getting records in the mail...another great thing that kids these days will never experience.

I remember ordering the first Modern Lovers elpee (the one with the John Cale demos and Jerry Harrison on keyboards) from Berserkely Records. I think it came the same day I bought the Ramones' and the Runaways' first albums at Tower...

Anonymous said...

I tracked down the same double album as Gummo after learning that the New Wave-ish magazine Trouser Press had taken its name from one of their songs. Not what I was expecting at all, but quite wonderful - I gets a kick out of 'em to this day.

Ordering records through the mail? Surely ye old hippies must remember those old WB promo LPs that used to advertise in the back of the National Lampoon. You'd send them a buck, and they'd send you a double album! Such a deal!

- bill buckner

Gummo said...

Ordering records through the mail? Surely ye old hippies must remember those old WB promo LPs that used to advertise in the back of the National Lampoon. You'd send them a buck, and they'd send you a double album! Such a deal!

I think they were $3, then later ones were $5, but either way they were already a deal then. The Warner Brothers Loss Leaders.

With those real breezy liner notes that were a WB hallmark for a while, very similar in tone to the Volkswagen ads of the day -- self-mocking, forthright that they were trying to sell you something, and much more intelligent than other advertising of the day.

But yes, those albums were an amazing deal.

Anonymous said...

The Bonzos and Spirit were great at the Saturday night early show I saw at the Fillmore East that weekend. I will go to my grave remembering laughing my head off at the spinning kazoo during Urban Spaceman. The crowd that night got into the Bonzos. The Fillmore East almost always had intellegent, hip audiences.

And the Kinks did suck! But they made up for it in 1970 when they were the greatest Rock and Roll Band on Earth for the one year! Sorry Stones.