Category Archives: Television

#198 – Funky But Chic

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#198 – Funky But Chic by David Johansen

 – Loud, brash, chaotic, unpredictable and gritty. And I’m not just talking about this song, but also the images it brings back of New York City at night during the late 1970’s. Funky But Chic is more than a rock song. It’s a soundtrack.

I might have forgotten to mention that to David Johansen… uh, Buster Poindexter while hanging out during the 1980’s. But more about that later…

When Funky But Chic was released in the spring of 1978, I was closing out my first year living in Manhattan. Moving from a small town in Ohio without knowing anyone in the city could be called a ballsy move. Looking back, I guess it was. But after college I wanted to avoid the boredom of a normal life and headed east looking for excitement.

By this time I had scored a job at a company that ran concessions for Broadway theaters. I had started out at the candy counter, but within a couple months I was a manager. This was actually a very cool job. I would check on the bars at various theaters each night to make sure everything was running smoothly and then grab an empty seat to watch the show. I could see every popular (and not so popular) Broadway show countless times. I usually finished close to midnight and for anyone that knows New York City and is even slightly involved in the entertainment industry, that’s the prime time to hit the nightlife.

Weekends were always too crowded at the popular (and no one wanted to hit the not so popular) hangouts. As New York Yankee star Yogi Berra once said: “Nobody goes there, it’s too crowded.” So on Fridays and Saturdays we usually gravitated to our local neighborhood Cheers style bar where everybody knows your name.

But Sunday nights were different. I worked afternoon matinees, so the evenings were free to explore. One of the clubs was the legendary Max’s Kansas City, located on Park Avenue South and only a few blocks from where I lived in Gramercy Park.

“Dorothy, we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

Since Sunday was considered an “off night” at Max’s after a weekend packed with rockers and punks, we never found it over crowded. We could find a seat at the bar, have a few beers and carry on a conversation without shouting. One night my closest rocker pal Tim, who is still rockin’, pointed to a guy sitting a couple stools away and said it was Ace Frehley from KISS without his makeup.

I mention this because right up there with Funky But Chic as late 70’s Manhattan soundtrack songs would be New York Groove from Frehley’s solo LP the same year. Both were high frequency selections on jukeboxes at whatever local hangouts we were exploring. And BTW, we didn’t bother Ace at Max’s because that’s not what you do in New York. We left him alone to get his own New York Groove on.

Though I never thought it was as cool as Max’s, I also hit the equally legendary Studio 54 twice during this time – as an invited guest. That means we didn’t have to deal with the velvet rope and doorman to get in.

Another hot spot was the Mudd Club down in Tribeca, mentioned in the song Life During Wartime by the Talking Heads. Somehow we met someone who could sneak us in the back entrance and also avoid the long lines outside. My biggest memory has most of the crowd trying to look like Keith Richards. Since I’d already had a year to ditch the Midwest look (whatever that was) for a more chic NYC style… Okay, I honestly wouldn’t describe it that way because I never looked like Keef. But we all still looked cooler in the late 70’s than what happened fashion-wise in the 80’s.

Let’s just say I didn’t exactly fit in with the wannabe Keefs, but didn’t feel out of place either.

Once the excitement of being new to New York had worn off and any urge to fit in with the wannabe’s had completely disappeared (wasn’t difficult) we found the local bars in our neighborhood to be a lot more friendly and fun. And just like the TV show mentioned above, eventually everybody knew your name.

And that’s where I eventually met David Johansen. Or was it Buster Poindexter… Either way I knew his name, but that was still more than a few years removed from 1978.

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Career-wise I went from Broadway shows to music clubs, bars & restaurants and eventually comedy clubs. My jobs included everything from managing and bartending, to performing music and telling jokes. As a fan of the nightlife it worked for me since I usually started after the sun went down. And again, if you know anything about New York, you know it’s a different city at night than it is during the day.

It’s very funky, but – depending where you are – also very chic.

This classic David Johansen song woke me up with a reminder of nighttime Manhattan on May 15th. I’ve never owned a copy due to my 1978 NYC budget where (high) apartment rent, food and hanging out took precedence, and I also can’t remember the last time I’d heard it. So funk this one up into the subliminal neighborhood of Dream Songs.

College pin ups?

One of my all-time closest friends from college who went by the Midwestern rock star name of Smiley viewed the New York Dolls as only about a half step behind The Rolling Stones in legend status. I didn’t share his enthusiasm, but would hang around his room in our frat listening to their only two albums from around 1973.

We also watched them on Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert late night TV show (I’ve always done the best things at night) and couldn’t help noticing lead singer David Johansen had a resemblance to Mick Jagger.

And with their dolled-up, drag queen wardrobe and makeup, they were pin-ups for both the glam and punk rock scenes. I immediately liked them more than the flannel shirt-wearing, acoustic guitar-playing troubadours that were still trendy on our campus, but always bored me to no end.

Now let’s fast forward about a decade…

In the mid 1980’s I had scored a job managing and bartending at our local Cheers style hangout on the corner of 20th Street and Third Avenue in Gramercy Park. It was called The Honey Tree and yeah, I was a wannabe Sam Malone. I had also learned enough about the New York Dolls to recognize David Johansen when he walked through the door.

Within a couple weeks of regular visits, he was part of our local hangout crowd.

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We all contributed a lot of laughs, loud conversations, insults, stupidity, and the general chaos and craziness that accompanies late nights in NYC. I don’t remember talking about The Dolls except one night when he spotted one of the former drummers, Tony Machine, walking along the other side of Third Avenue with a hero sandwich. David opened the door and yelled something to him (he had no problem being heard over the traffic), but that’s the end of the memory.

And just to add a “note of interest” – Tony Machine played percussion on Funky But Chic. Wondering if he brought sandwiches for the entire band…

David also had another talent for making sure we didn’t shut down the fun just because of the 4 am legal closing time. When I’d give “last call” David would shove ten or twenty bucks in the jukebox and start punching in songs. Since it only cost a quarter per, everyone knew we’d be there for awhile. Making a managerial decision, I’d shut off the outside lights, lock the door and pull the curtains closed over the front windows and keep the party going.

But what really made this experience cool was witnessing the creation of his alter-ego, Buster Poindexter. And if you don’t know Buster, then you’ve never been Hot Hot Hot.

Steve Holley from Wings with The Classic Rocker

Another club we used to frequent was Tramps on East 15th Street (it moved to SoHo in 1988). Monday nights were the favorite with non-weekend crowds and jam sessions by great musicians. The house band was called The Bullies with a rotating door of players. One night we were watching another closest friend and NYC acting coach Ted Bardy playing piano with the band, until he took a break and Ian Hunter sat down at the keys. I also met Steve Holley, drummer for the final version of Paul McCartney & Wings, who recognized me more than 25 years later when I was signing books at the Beatles fest, Abbey Road on the River in Louisville, Kentucky.

He told me he never forgot a face and proved it that day. Amazing…

David started inviting us to Tramps on Mondays to watch him try out his Buster Poindexter character. He’d sit on a barstool wearing a tuxedo, (what looked like) black women’s stockings as socks, slicked back hair and a cocktail in his hand. It started out small, maybe with just a backup piano and guitar player at first, but he gradually added more players. Instead of rock, he’d croon standards and calypso style songs.

Cheers Buster!

After a few months of watching him morph into the very cool music personality alter ego, we were invited to a happening New Year’s Eve party at Tramps. I can’t be sure, but I’m guessing  it was to ring in the year 1987. It was a full-out and packed Buster Poindexter celebration and for a night that usually doesn’t live up to everyone’s high expectations, this NY’s Eve was a blast. I distinctly remember Buster… uh, David asking for a swig of my beer as a cure for his dry throat before running back on stage for an encore.

Not long after we all seemed to gravitate onto our next career moves and neighborhoods. I ended up running the most popular comedy club in New York City and Buster… uh, David was back on the radio and television with Hot Hot Hot. Believe me when I say it all turned out to be much more than a boring normal life.

It was a long way from when I was a wannabe be New Yorker in the late 1970’s. And even though a calypso beat can still bring back memories of late nights in Manhattan, Funky But Chic was the soundtrack for when it all started.

Here’s a 1993 clip of David singing Funky But Chic on Late Night with Conan O’Brien. Loud, brash, chaotic, unpredictable and gritty – just as it should be.

To purchase David Johansen’s self-titled and first solo CD with Funky But Chic check out Amazon.com.

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing

Beatles Program

 

August 15, 1965 – The Beatles At Shea Stadium

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– It started earlier than you might think…

sidbernstein

Sid Bernstein

During the winter of 1963 Sid Bernstein, a New York producer and entrepreneur, decided to expand his horizons by taking a course in Political Science. The instructor said if students wanted learn about democracy they need to study Great Britain, so Bernstein trekked down to Times Square every week and bought the British newspapers.

After reading updates about the government, he turned to where his real interests were – the entertainment section. He noticed the name of a pop group called The Beatles. At first the articles were small, but each week they continued to grow in size. They also included two words about their performances that caught Bernstein’s eye:

SOLD OUT!

To his producer’s way of thinking, these were the same words that described fame-predicting appearances by Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley, two of the BIGGEST names in showbiz. Since expanding his horizons could also mean taking a chance, he located the Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein and booked the group – then unknown in the U.S. – for two shows in February 1964 at Carnegie Hall in New York.

Epstein Beatles

Brian Epstein and “The Boys”

When dealing with Epstein there were always stipulations. If The Beatles were not getting radio airplay in the U.S. by December 1963, the deal was off. It was a long wait, but as history tells us they made the deadline. I Want To Hold Your Hand broke the airwave barrier, they were scheduled for three February appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show – and Bernstein SOLD OUT both shows at Carnegie Hall.

Following the Beatles summer and fall 1964 tour of North America, Bernstein took another chance and scheduled them to appear in the brand new, state of the art Shea Stadium in Flushing, Queens. Again there were stipulations that included no advertising without a paid deposit, but Bernstein made a bold guarantee and backed it up by selling 55,600 seats through word of mouth. Once again…

SOLD OUT!

Nothing on this scale for a pop concert had ever been attempted before. Elvis had performed a handful of stadium shows leading up to his army induction, but the largest had been in front of 26,000 fans at The Cotton Bowl. The Beatles had to more than double that number to fill Shea Stadium.

Dressing Room

Away from the crowd

On August 15, 1965 The Beatles landed on top of a building at the neighboring New York World’s Fair and were delivered into Shea Stadium via a Wells Fargo armored truck. The dressing room was crowed with visitors including Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and future kingpin business manager for Apple Corp and three of the four Beatles, Allen Klein.

If only Brian Epstein had known…

Their entire visit to New York, beginning Friday, August 13th through Tuesday, August 16th, was filmed for a Beatles In New York (not the title, but the idea) television special. Only backstage and concert footage was used for the final version.

Introduced by Ed Sullivan, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr ran to a small stage set up over second base on the baseball playing field and performed ten songs in about thirty-seven minutes. Whether anyone heard them depended on where they were seated, if they were screaming – or if they were next to someone screaming. Many of the male fans thought they sounded great. Many of the female fans don’t remember.

Shea on stage

Never before in the history of popular music…

Filmed in 35mm, the quality of the concert footage is similar to blockbuster Hollywood movies of the era. For comparison, The Monterey Pop Festival and Woodstock movies were filmed in 16mm.

The resulting television special, The Beatles At Shea Stadium, was planned for holiday (Christmas) airing in December 1965. One member of the Beatles inner circle approved the version submitted by Ed Sullivan Productions, while five others didn’t. A secret recording session took place in January 1966 to correct the sound and the special wasn’t broadcast in the U.S. until a year later. By that time fans were only weeks away from the release of Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields Forever by a mustached, psychedelic-clothes-wearing, pre-Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

The film has been restored, color-corrected with both the overdubbed and original audio remastered for mono and stereo. It has yet to be released.

But on television that January evening in 1967 they were still the mop-topped Fab Four riding high on the release of their summer 1965 film, Help! And they played, sang, laughed and sweated during a hot New York August night in front of a SOLD OUT audience of 55,600 fans.

It was 50 years ago on August 15, 1965.

It was the birth of stadium rock.

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2015 – North Shore Publishing

 

February 9, 1964

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I was taken by complete surprise. Well, almost.

Jack Parr

Jack Parr

I had heard of The Beatles before February 9th only because my mom let me stay up late the night Jack Parr aired a brief clip during The Tonight Show on January 3, 1964. It had to be a Friday night and not a school night, but I’m not sure. And it wasn’t because we knew The Beatles were going to be on. Again, I had never even heard of them. We just enjoyed watching Jack Parr. For me it was his sense of smug humor (for lack of a better term). I always thought it was a bit risqué to watch his show because I was still a preteen and he was for adults. It reinforces my opinion that my mom was a little more with it than other parents who wouldn’t let their children stay up late to watch when Parr was host of The Tonight Show.

I also thank her and my dad for taking me to a Beatles concert. Again, I’ve heard too many stories from other young fans “under parental control” who were not allowed.

Other than Parr’s brief clip I have no memory of hearing anything else about The Beatles until February 9th. There was too much other “stuff” going on. I’ve been very clear about my recollections of this time in past Classic Rocker columns and my books The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. We were still dealing with a very bleak time in our country’s history following JFK’s assassination in Dallas on November 22nd. We watched the funeral and news updates on television and heard discussions at home and in school about The Cold War and The A-Bomb. Even my neighbor had a bomb shelter and as a preteen baby boomer it was obvious things had changed very quickly.

I often describe my memories during these days as being in black and white. That probably comes from remembering and still seeing reruns of newsreels and television shows from that era being broadcast in black and white. The Beverly Hillbillies, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Patty Duke Show. You know the ones I’m talking about, so no need to mention them all. All the shows were in black and white which undoubtedly affects my memories.

I didn’t even know anyone who owned a color television in February 1964 – not even my neighbor with the bomb shelter. But having a color television wouldn’t have made a difference. The Ed Sullivan Show was broadcast in black and white.

Ed Beatles 2

Rehearsal pre-fab

My dad, mom, little sister and I had been on a four day family vacation that started on Wednesday, February 5th. It was a driving trip to Washington, DC and we arrived home in the early evening of Sunday February 9th.  I had no plans to do anything except eat dinner and avoid doing any homework until the last minute. As we did just about every Sunday at 8 pm we all sat down in front of our only television (“The black and white one,” as John Lennon described A Hard Day’s Night at their legendary Shea Stadium concert about a year and a half later) to watch The Ed Sullivan Show.

Dad, mom and sis were on the couch. I sat on the floor with my back against the couch. I remember it as vividly as where I was when my fifth grade teacher announced to the class President Kennedy had been shot. There are a few dates you’ll always remember if you were alive at that time. These are two of the earliest for me.

It would be cool to say we watched because of The Beatles, but don’t remember it that way. We always watched Ed Sullivan. Like for many of us in the U.S. he was part of our television family on Sunday nights.

As the first performers, he announced The Beatles.

Beatles Ed Sullivan

A moment in time

For myself at that moment and for millions of others watching, our world immediately went from black and white to color. It was that dramatic. To use a comparison from my book The Beatles In Cleveland it was like the film The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy was swept away from a black and white Kansas and unexpectedly dropped in colorful Oz.

And The Ed Sullivan Show was broadcast in black and white!!

Beatles music has been listened to, analyzed, discussed, broken down, recreated, and even taught and studied in universities since. There’s no need for me to do that now. The influence is still felt over half a century later.

But it wasn’t just the music. They had an image unlike anyone else before them. You can talk about how shocking Madonna, Michael Jackson and Prince appeared twenty years later, or even more recently with Lady Gaga, Lil’ Wayne and Miley Cyrus. In February 1964 the Beatles’ “look” was shocking compared to what was considered “normal” at the time.

To put it into a baby boomer context based on our television viewing habits. No man in 1964 had hair like that except for Moe from The Three Stooges.

John Lennon MarriedInstead of letter sweaters and slacks, the Beatles wore business suits with tight pants, skinny ties and boots with pointy toes and high heels (Cuban heeled Beatle Boots). It was shocking! And I only learned their first names because they were flashed under their individual shots on the television screen. The music was lively and happy, the Beatles bounced in time and the girls screamed. Then it was over.

Well, not quite for me. Where we lived in northern Ohio, the dividing line between Eastern Standard Time and Central Standard Time in 1964 was drawn between Cleveland and Toledo. That meant we had two separate television markets airing shows an hour apart. At 8 pm EST I watched the Beatles live on The Ed Sullivan Show. An hour later at 8 pm CST I tuned into the Toledo CBS affiliate and watched it again. I did that for each of their three appearances that month.

Beatles Ed 2

Long haired rock’n roll

I was able to watch their U.S. debut on The Ed Sullivan Show twice that same night. It was also rerun later that year, but then I never saw it again until buying a bootleg videotape on 8th Street in Manhattan more than twenty years later. Now like many other fans, I own a legit DVD copy of The Ed Sullivan Show appearances and pretty much have every moment memorized.

The very next day it was also obvious things had changed.

On the Wednesday before, I had left school early for our drive to Washington, DC. There had been no mention of The Beatles in my classroom or anywhere that I can recall.

On Monday morning following The Ed Sullivan Show most of the girls in my fifth grade class had Beatles fan magazines hidden in their desks and their television debut was the main topic of conversation. The guys tried to act cool about it – or at least that’s my perception because we weren’t supposed to be attracted to them like the girls were. They were in love and lust. But I remember listening to their conversations and know some of the guys, me included, wanted to be like The Beatles. It seemed a lot more fun than kicking a ball around the playground.

I’m sure it was also within that first week one of the guys in my class came to school with a Beatles wig. I bought one myself and still have it. There were also a lot of Beatles trading cards, photos, magazines and other merchandize brought to school that would be considered valued collectors items today.

Beatles Bowing

From black & white to color

Of course, there was the music. By the Saturday following their debut on The Ed Sullivan Show I owned the LP Introducing The Beatles as a gift from my parents after listening to me beg for a week. The next Saturday (after more pleading) I had a copy of Meet The Beatles. Somewhere within that time frame I came up with the sixty cents (somewhere in that $$ neighborhood at that time) for the 45 rpm record I Want To Hold Your Hand b/w I Saw Her Standing There.

The floodgates were open and haven’t been closed since. It was February 9, 1964. It all changed that evening and nothing was ever the same again. Thank you to John, Paul, George and Ringo. It’s been a memorable journey to say the least.

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and the author of The Beatles In Cleveland and The Beatles At Shea Stadium

Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com at THIS LINK.