Clip: Frontman says Fleshtones still fresh
Frontman says Fleshtones still fresh
Friday, May 30, 2003
By Ed Masley, Post-Gazette Pop Music Critic
The Fleshtones may drop by the Warhol on their way to rock the 31st Street
Pub tonight. But then, they say that every time they play here, says Peter
It just never happens, despite a number of what the organ-playing,
harmonica-wielding frontman refers to as "peripheral" encounters with the
man who gave the Fleshtones two or three of their allotted 15 minutes on
the final episode of "Andy Warhol's 15 Minutes."
Long before that, at a New York City cabaret, Zaremba met his future
drummer, Bill Milhizer, at a Holly Woodlawn show.
Milhizer, at the time, was drumming for the gender-bending star of "Trash"
(immortalized for having "shaved her legs and then he was a she") in "Walk
on the Wild Side."
Zaremba was partying.
Hard enough that he can claim with some conviction to remember nothing
about the performance.
"I was carried out of the club," he says. "Actually, out of the bathroom.
Then, out of the club."
He's got a clearer picture of his next encounter with the Warhol scene.
"I spent a very interesting evening with Warhol once at Studio 54," he
says. "That was the height of Studio 54-dom, so it must have been, like,
1977. I was in the Fleshtones because I remember talking to him about the
Fleshtones a little bit and him saying, 'Oh that sounds fabulous' -- his
usual [nonsense]. 'That sounds really fabulous, Peter.' But he made me
dance with Bianca, had me chat with Truman and whoever else was sitting
there. It wound up being a very interesting evening, but one which I did
He laughs, then says, "I was nobody's fool. Or so I thought."
If you're having a hard time picturing Zaremba dancing with Bianca at the
legendary disco, you were more than likely unaware that he spent nearly
every night there in the glory days of disco -- while fronting the
Fleshtones at the rock clubs.
"I had no problem," he says, "with the disco-rock dichotomy. The people who
really knew what was going on in rock 'n' roll didn't have any problem with
that. They just looked at the disco thing as a very fabulous, incredible,
unbelievable social event where you would hang out with Warhol for the
evening. Or dance with Caroline Kennedy, which also happened there."
As for those who didn't see it that way at the time, Zaremba says, "It
wasn't disco's fault that that was fulfilling a function that rock 'n' roll
wasn't fulfilling. Rock 'n' roll had just sort of become this heavy-metal
stoner music that you just sort of sat and maybe nodded your head to. It
wasn't fulfilling the function that rock 'n' roll should -- as a catalyst
for action and dancing and gathering. People like the Ramones, they had no
problem with disco. All the pioneers of the punk thing, whenever they had
enough money or could hustle their way in, they went there. To us, there
was just bad music that was useless and then there was music that made you
want to go crazy and dance and socialize and do whatever as a social
enabler and a liberator, help you break loose."
A typical night on the town, he says, would "start at CBGB's, move to
Max's, then a few other places, then we'd wind up at Studio 54. And from
there, some other less reputable places. It was an interesting period."
Although the Fleshtones formed in Queens and hit the punk scene in '76 --
right place, right time -- Zaremba says they never really fit the punk-rock
mold with their infectious take on '60s party-rock.
"We didn't blend," he says, "We played at Max's, played at CBGB's and
everyone kind of liked us but they couldn't show it too much because they
had to be more punky. The bands liked us. It was the writers that thought
we were goofballs. They just couldn't figure out why we would want to be a
It was similar, he says, to the reaction Blondie got at first for its
infectious take on '60s party-rock.
It's no surprise, then, that members of Blondie numbered among the more
powerful early supporters of the Fleshtones.
"They were always trying to think of something to do with us," Zaremba
says. "In fact, there was a very short period of time where the band
dissolved -- around 1979. And it was Blondie that was very instrumental in
putting us back together. When we started recording again, we were actually
two/fifths Blondie. Clem Burke drummed for us and Jimmy [Destri] played the
keyboards and produced. It was a real brief thing. But that relaunched the
band into our fabulous misadventures for our very strange career that we've
had. As I've often said, the band has stared in the face of success and
laughed. Many times. Especially in the early '80s."
Signed to I.R.S., the band released two classic albums for the label:
"Roman Gods" in 1981 and the even better "Hexbreaker" in 1983.
It wasn't long before Zaremba had his own TV show -- hosting MTV's "The
As Zaremba recalls with a laugh, "I could make or break everybody. But I
used my power benevolently. Everyone was on that show."
He never broke the Fleshtones, but the cult band never stopped recording,
with a brand new record, "Do You Swing?" arriving just in time to cash in
on the new garage revival. Only problem is, Zaremba isn't sure they fit in
any better with the Hives and White Stripes than they did on the '70s punk
scene in New York.
"I wish we did fit in," he says, "because you know, it would be nice for us
to finally get some recognition at least for what we've been doing. Over
the years, we've always said that we're a garage band -- not meaning guys
who only play 'Dirty Water' and 'Little Girl' by the Syndicate of Sound but
a band who plays music like that and sort of has the same attitude that
those bands had. If you go back to what those bands were doing, OK, they
had the few hits but other than that, they were covering R&B and other
dance tunes to the best of their white-kid ability. And that was us. We
were playing songs like 'Little Girl' and R&B, the same junk the Kinks
might have covered or the Rolling Stones, to the best of our white-kid
ability. We played a little bit in the garage, but it was mostly in the
basement. I would love it if this somehow helped us. But I don't know if it
He credits the Kinks, the Yardbirds and the Stones with making him want to
start a band as a kid growing up on the British Invasion in Queens.
"As the early '70s came around," he says, "what we all had our hopes on was
somehow putting together a band like the Kinks or the Stones -- that kind
of R&B. I learned to play harmonica and was just dying to be in a band, but
at first I was just trying to do it through other people, trying to
vicariously put together a band. And a lot of those bands involved
[guitarist] Keith [Streng]. And eventually, I just joined in with him and
the Fleshtones were born."
The band is 27 now. And Zaremba, for one, is "shocked" that they're
"But it hasn't been difficult," he says. "And I just hope it stays that
way. It's not like there's a tremendous amount of pressure in the band to
do extensive touring. We tour. We play. We haven't stopped playing. We
record. But it's not like OK, now we have to disappear for six or seven
weeks and do a lot of miserable shows and suffer and get bored with
playing. We never got bored. It's always fun. And on top of that, we always
get to have the feeling that somehow we were right. We don't look back and
say, 'Oh, no, we shouldn't have done that.' We don't have a New Romantic
phase to live down. People from these really good bands will constantly
come up to us and say, 'Oh yeah, man, when I was a kid, I was at your shows
and they were great. It made me want to be in a band.' "
On top of the that, the band has reached the point where Streng can feel
confident issuing the Fleshtones challenge.
As Zaremba explains, "At this point, we finally feel that we've become
familiar enough with our instruments -- after 27 years -- that we will go
up against any band and as Keith put it, we will even spot the other band
five seconds of applause on their applause-o-meter. We feel confident that
we will triumph anyway."
- Carl, thanks for sharing this article with all of us here.
Zaremba's comments about disco are very instructive. There's a huge disco
exhibition at the Experience Music Project now and while they have a good
section of rock crossovers (i.e. Stones, Donna Summer), it seems that most
people still remember the connection being the unfortunate 'disco sucks'
riot at Comiskey Park in '79.
Perfect Sound Forever
online music magazine with warped perspectives
- --On Sunday, June 1, 2003 10:43 AM -0400 Perfect Sound Forever
> There's a huge discoHeh. I was watching that on Channel 44 and it quickly degenerated into
> exhibition at the Experience Music Project now and while they have a good
> section of rock crossovers (i.e. Stones, Donna Summer), it seems that
> most people still remember the connection being the unfortunate 'disco
> sucks' riot at Comiskey Park in '79.
smoke and chaos, with Sox announcer Jimmy Piersall threatening to strangle
Steve Dahl (Piersall would later be suspended for choking
then-sportswriter/now-Sox executive Rob Gallas) and Mayor Byrne brushing
off any attempts at interviews. That was my first experience that a
baseball game could be called off (or more accurately, forfeited) for
reasons other than weather.
- On Mon, 2 Jun 2003, Carl Abraham Zimring wrote:
> Heh. I was watching that on Channel 44 and it quickly degenerated intoI missed out on that night, being all of six months old at the time. I
> smoke and chaos, with Sox announcer Jimmy Piersall threatening to strangle
> Steve Dahl (Piersall would later be suspended for choking
> then-sportswriter/now-Sox executive Rob Gallas) and Mayor Byrne brushing
> off any attempts at interviews.
did get to see occasional file footage of it growing up, though. I had
feelings of both horror and a perverse mirth from the ensuing chaos. It
wasn't until I got older that I realized that indeed, some people had a
violently negative reaction to disco, and that Disco Demolition Night was
just the most (in)famous example of it.
Great set of eyewitness accounts here:
- Rob, sending me to my Geritol, writes:
> I missed out on that night, being all of six months old at the time.Must...take...medication....
> Great set of eyewitness accounts here:This website could be hazardous to my manuscript's completion. The only
music content in this next link is Nancy Faust's organ, but it gives a
flavor of what the Sox were like when I was a kid:
The glory days before Tony La Russa was hired and started hanging out with
Dennis DeYoung of Styx...
Carl "more baseball announcers should broadcast drunk" Z.
- --- In email@example.com, Perfect Sound Forever
> Carl, thanks for sharing this article with all of us here.Ditto, Carl. I lost touch with the Fleshtones quite some time ago, but
the new CD on Yep Roc kicks serious ass, and their recent performance
at the Southpaw in Brooklyn friggin' slayed me. I can't think of too
many bands that have been together as long as they have who still have
that much obvious fun onstage.