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Clip: Frontman says Fleshtones still fresh

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  • Carl Abraham Zimring
    http://www.post-gazette.com/ae/20030530flesh0530fnp6.asp Frontman says Fleshtones still fresh Friday, May 30, 2003 By Ed Masley, Post-Gazette Pop Music Critic
    Message 1 of 6 , May 31, 2003
      http://www.post-gazette.com/ae/20030530flesh0530fnp6.asp

      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
      Zaremba.

      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
      not pursue."

      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
      twist band."

      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
      Cutting Edge."

      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
      will."

      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
      together.

      "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."
    • Perfect Sound Forever
      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
      Message 2 of 6 , Jun 1, 2003
        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.

        Best,
        Jason

        Perfect Sound Forever
        online music magazine with warped perspectives
        perfect-sound@...
        http://www.perfectsoundforever.com
      • Carl Abraham Zimring
        --On Sunday, June 1, 2003 10:43 AM -0400 Perfect Sound Forever ... Heh. I was watching that on Channel 44 and it quickly degenerated into smoke and chaos,
        Message 3 of 6 , Jun 2, 2003
          --On Sunday, June 1, 2003 10:43 AM -0400 Perfect Sound Forever
          <perfect-sound@...> wrote:

          > 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.

          Heh. I was watching that on Channel 44 and it quickly degenerated into
          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.

          Carl Z.
        • Rob Jefferson
          ... I missed out on that night, being all of six months old at the time. I did get to see occasional file footage of it growing up, though. I had feelings of
          Message 4 of 6 , Jun 2, 2003
            On Mon, 2 Jun 2003, Carl Abraham Zimring wrote:

            > Heh. I was watching that on Channel 44 and it quickly degenerated into
            > 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.

            I missed out on that night, being all of six months old at the time. I
            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:
            http://whitesoxinteractive.com/History&Glory/DiscoDemolition.htm

            rob
          • Carl Abraham Zimring
            ... Must...take...medication.... ... This website could be hazardous to my manuscript s completion. The only music content in this next link is Nancy Faust s
            Message 5 of 6 , Jun 2, 2003
              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:
              > http://whitesoxinteractive.com/History&Glory/DiscoDemolition.htm

              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:
              <http://whitesoxinteractive.com/History&Glory/FalstaffHarry.htm>.

              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.
            • samchecker
              ... 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
              Message 6 of 6 , Jun 2, 2003
                --- In fearnwhiskey@yahoogroups.com, Perfect Sound Forever
                <perfect-sound@f...> wrote:
                > 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.

                Mark W.
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