FM to Web: The Beginnings Of The Fleshtones by Peter Zaremba (Part Β)

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Peter Zaremba (The Fleshtones) sent to Dimitris Antonopoulos an abstract of his autobiography "Did I Do That?", especially for the readers of Mix Grill!

Read the first part here!

The general decadence and decay of the period seemed to culminate in the lavish party at New York's Hayden Planetarium to celebrate the anticipated arrival of the massive, history-changing comet Kahoutek, which would usher in a new age of… nobody knew -but Hawkwind was there to perform their 'Space Ritual'. I barely managed to ascend out of drug-inducted haze to see them standing in front of me in the hallway, leering arm in arm, dressed in strange Euro-hippy garb with matted hair and braided beards. The comet that promised to blaze across our skies proved to be the perfect symbol of the age -it could not even be seen with the naked eye. It seemed, as Sun Ra mournfully pointed out to society, that it was after the end of the world ("don't you know that yet?!")

Brian and I were in his kitchen, thumbing through 'The Village Voice', the former hippy paper that we'd scour for any possible encouraging musical news, when these little ads began to appear. The ads included a tiny photo of a scruffy band called The Ramones. Hmm, a gang? Puerto Rican brothers? I didn't think much of it at the time, but should have -at least they weren't dressed like women or spacemen. If fact, besides dressing all alike, they were dressed a lot like we did. Soon there was a lot of talk about Patti Smith and kids  hanging out downtown wearing white Oxford shirts and black neckties, again very non-hippy/ rock star looking which I should have seen as a positive development. My friend Cathy Nemeth, who had started to write for an entertainment 'weekly' was recommending that I go see a group called Milk & Cookies at a place called CBGB down on the Bowery. The Bowery, a run-down old thoroughfare, was long past it's glory as New York's mid-nineteenth century entertainment district, and was still very much entrenched as the city's 'skid-row', complete with homeless alcoholic 'bums' and their 'flop-house dormitories like the 'Sunshine Hotel'.

CBGB wasn't far from the art school I was attending, so a schoolmate, April Palmeiri (who would later sing backup for John Sex), and I went to see Milk N' Cookies one snowy night. Although you couldn't tell much of what was going on inside by looking through the small, mostly papered over windows,  muffled music seeped outside and darkness and 'old bar stench' enveloped us as soon as we entered the tunnel-like club. Shadowy figures hunching over the bar turned to eye us over as we squeezed by to get to the low 'stage', one of which had a piled-high pompadour of black hair and a gold earring -I' didn't know this was Willie DeVille.

Afterwards I was so happy (or high) to find a place to hear music in this unlikely and remote corner of the city, that  I dived down and sledded on my belly across the snow-covered sidewalk, but cute as they were,, as far as I could tell, Milk N' Cookies were not the much longed-for saviors of rock and roll. I did acquire their 45, but perhaps Cathy had sent me that, she was very generous about my education and had sent me many British pressings of sought after records like 'Something Else' the live EP by The Move. I'm not sure what made me  reach critical mass to break the '70s bonds of lethargy to finally get out to see the Ramones, but there was increasing talk about them among the small group of students interested in 'real' rock and roll at the School Of Visual Arts. These fans included a pair of tall, sophisticated dark-haired twins. I could never tell which one I was speaking to, but one was friendly and the other quite curt, like in an Abbott & Costello film. Anyway, I promised to go see the Ramones.

I think Blondie and someone else might have been on the bill with the Ramones that night, either late 1975 or the first months of '76, but I only remember the Ramones. The songs seemed to run into each other. Clutching the mike-stand in a strangle-hold, the singer barked out lyrics that were mostly unintellegable. In fifteen minutes it was all over. I was confused.
The next day, I reported back to one of the twins, I think the right one since she asked what I thought about the Ramones. I explained my reservations about the band -the short songs, no solos, how the vocalist seemed to be singing in some sort of code and how I thought all the songs sounded like a cross between 'California Sun' and "Let's Dance'. 'Well" she wisely replied, "you hate endless solos and long songs, you've always made fun of hard-rock lyrics, and you love California Sun and Let's Dance, so The Ramones should be just what you've been waiting for!"

I'm not sure if it hit me that day, or the next, but the very next time The Ramones played I brought along Keith Streng. We had long spoke about music and the need to start a band, with or without me, as I didn't think I could really play anything (except harmonica which secretly I thought I had become rather good at -my heart was certainly in the right place). Soon afterwards, at one of his 'Concrete Block' jam sessions in the basement of the house he rented in the Whitestone section of Queens, I got up my nerve to walk up to the mike, pull out a harmonica and improvise some some lyrics to the ominous 1-4-5 progression they were playing that we titled 'Curtains' and The Fleshtones were born.

We already had the name, because we had always wanted a band. And although we had to cancel our first show at CBGB because the kid brother of girl friend who had been playing second guitar lost his nerve and couldn't face going on stage, we were ready and played CBGB that May, 1976. We began to rehearse in earnest. Guys from neighborhood groups who were trapped into playing cover material by 'real' arena rock bands would come by and gawk at us.  "You can't have a band, you need thousands of dollars of lighting equiptment" one guy commented. "You don't need lights to play at CBGB" I countered. "CBGB, who plays there?!" he asked. "Well, Television, Talking Heads, Blondie, The Ramones…" I could have been speaking Urdu, but one of the band's names struck a nerve. "The Ramones?" he scoffed, "they can't even play." "They just got signed to Sire Records for $6,000 (an unimaginable sum to us) I responded. "The Ramones suck!" he replied in disgust and left.

We kept on rehearsing and playing ever since however, because having a group was a dream come true for kids who loved to listen to records.

-Peter Zaremba

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