Author Archives: Matthew Rothenberg

Protopunk: How New York changed music — again

Peter Rossi in hat.

Peter Rossi today.

Peter Rossi is a Los Angeles-based filmmaker — but in the ‘70s, under the name Peter Ashley, he played guitar in Street Punk, one of the forgotten stalwarts of the New York music scene that rose alongside the New York Dolls and presaged the Ramones.

Now Rossi is combining his professional passions with a film project aimed at documenting and celebrating the bands, street artists and poets of New York’s protopunk scene. (The working title is Protopunk.) Rossi describes the style — which is in pre-production through his company Tantamount Productions — as “cinéma vérité meets ‘The Last Waltz,’ and he’s networking with Hollywood and investors to raise the money to bring the project to a screen near you. (As actor and veteran New York musician Fenton Lawless remarked in a Facebook discussion, the project is “what Vinyl promised but failed sooo miserably. … It needed a Peter Rossi.”)

"PROTOPUNK" – The Movement that rocked the world and the artists that inspired Punk Rock! from Sean Stanek on Vimeo.

The Rogues on stage

Peter Rossi with The Rogues at Copperfield’s, Greenwich Village.

While many bands that powered the scene have expressed excitement about gathering for a live event, Rossi emphasizes that he’s not looking to document a reunion that simply retreads the participants’ back catalogs. “This is about catching up with the artists who still have the fire in their souls,” he says.

Rossi is rallying some of the top acts of the era to top the bill again and demonstrate the chemistry that made New York a catalyst for a new generation of music.

In addition the chart-toppers, the event will provide an opportunity to hear other, worthy bands that played Coventry, Mercer Arts Center and Max’s Kansas City, including the Magic Tramps, the Harlots of 42nd Street and Teenage Lust (all of whom we’ve profiled here).

And the rich history of the scene extends beyond Patti Smith, the Dolls, KISS and other New York legends to include a wealth of bands that influenced them:

1. Street Punk. Early adopters of the “punk” sobriquet, Street Punk — which included Rossi, vocalist Jon Montgomery, guitarist Nicky Martin, pianist Bobby Blaine, bassist Donny Nossov and drummer Charlie Davidman — were regulars at all the coolest joints in town. “We were street kids,” Rossi says, “but we were better musicians than the next generation. We still had that street grit, but we could play — we studied music.” They were favorites of KISS, with whom they gigged and who bought rights to Street Punk’s “Master of Flash.” (According to Rossi, Street Punk’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll Appetite” was the basis for KISS’ “Rock and Roll All Nite.”) After Street Punk, Rossi would go on to play in the Rogues with Street Punk colleague Nicky Martin.

2. The Miamis. “The Miamis may have been the first punk band in the sense of what the package of what punk was,” Rossi says. “They were doing two-minute songs before the Ramones.” Led by brothers Tom and James Wynbrandt, the Miamis were staples on New York stages throughout the mid-’70s, sharing bills with Blondie, Talking Heads, the Ramones, Television and the New York Dolls. (Check out the Miamis’ retrospective 2016 CD: “We Deliver: The Lost Band of the CBGB Era (1974-1979).”)

3. The Planets. Speaking of CBGB pioneers, Binky Philips‘ band was among the first bands to play at that legendary club. In his book My Life in the Ghost of Planets: The Story of a CBGB Almost-WasBinky recalls the Planets’ first encounter with CBGB: “So, now, it was early December, 1974. The Planets had been thrown out of Coventry, the only club that would book us (one of the bouncers took offense when I tried to clock him with a mic stand in front of the whole audience). We basically had nowhere to perform. Now what? … Then, one day, it suddenly occurred to me that CBGB was the joint where those two bands, advertising with those postage-stamp-sized ads in the Clubs section of the Village Voice, were performing regularly: Television. The Ramones. CBGB. Oh, right!”

4. The Werewolves. “The Werewolves came out of Texas,” Rossi recalls. “They weren’t that big on the scene, but they were really good. When they landed, they came right in at the top of the pack.” The band featured vocalist/guitarist Seab Meador (an underground legend in Texas) and bassist Jimmie Randall, both veterans of Dallas band the Gentlemen. Another historical note: The Werewolves were managed by Andrew Loog Oldham of Rolling Stones fame.

3. Queen Elizabeth/Wayne County and the Backstreet Boys. Jayne County is a rock-‘n’-roll legend and transgender pioneer. As Wayne County, she played in a variety of New York bands — starting with Queen Elizabeth, which featured future Miamis Tom and James Wynbrandt. No audio or video of Queen Elizabeth is available online (yet). While we wait for it to drop, check out this single from Jayne’s next band, Wayne County and the Backstreet Boys, which also featured drummer Marc Bell (soon to be known as Marky Ramone). The lyrics of “Max’s Kansas City” comprise a who’s who of New York bands of the era … And suggest some more of the acts Peter Rossi hopes to bring to the big screen.

“It was a bunch of people having a lot of fun,” Rossi says. “A lot of fun being created. It was also about what was going on around it — a very desolate, gray, dark period in New York, from blackouts to Berkowitz.”

Can Apple Watch turn back the clock?

Apple WatchOver the past couple months, I’ve had the very exciting assignment of assisting the U.S. launch of Campaign, Haymarket Media Group’s legendary brand serving the advertising industry.

We scored one of our biggest successes to date last week when my old MacWEEK fellow traveler Daniel Drew Turner wrote a piece titled “With Apple Watch, it’s time for new ad designs.” Like the headline says, the article considers the advertising potential on Apple Watch, the wearable device Apple reportedly will ship in February. Dan looked at Apple’s WatchKit software development kit and spoke with industry insiders about the UX considerations a small, wrist-mounted advertising platform will impose.

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From satire to hoax to incitement: Ebola on the Web

#IAmALiberianNotAVirusIn a post last week, I opened up the subject of differentiating satire from hoax in the era of Facebook shares and careless posts seen by millions.

I cited a fabricated story about Michele Bachmann that fooled many of the most popular progressive sites: a combination of weak (or outright deceptive) satire and a lack of due diligence that’s repeated again and again, to the detriment of our intellectual integrity.

Pretty sleazy stuff, but we have to descend another several circles of Hell to gaze on some of the intentionally false content about the Ebola virus that’s made the rounds the past week.

If you accept the notion that these pieces are somehow satire, the objects are immigrants from the West African nation of Liberia. (Liberia is one of the countries most affected by the disease.)

If you consider these stories provocation, Liberians are potential victims.

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The myth of false equivalency

scalesThis is the story of my first and last brush with campus activism during my college career. It’s been decades, so some names may be slightly askew — but the sequence of events is still crystal clear.

I crossed paths with 1960s counterculture often as a tot, and I’d always romanticized the activism it inspired. So when I entered college, I was eager to man the ramparts for social justice.

A cause of the moment was registration for the draft, which had been reinstated in 1980 by Jimmy Carter. Like any aspiring young progressive I knew, I was opposed to registration as a half-step away from conscription. (I’ve long since tempered that opinion; I now believe that conscription is a potent tool to make the powerful think twice about committing their own children to war.)

At the time, however, it seemed like a righteous cause to start my career as a student activist. So I was excited to attend the first meeting of a group called (IIRC) Students Against Registration and the Draft and attended by about 30 of the most visible leftist students on the UCSD campus.

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Satire or hoax? Let’s draw a line

Michele BachmannMy last post here took a first pass at what’s so wrong with so many of the online stories posing as news. In last week’s episode, I focused on the vanishing practice of calling people to verify or debunk the supposed meaning of the event described.

This week, I’d like to consider the intentional creation of falsehoods for dissemination online. Many assertions that readers share widely as fact turn out to be distorted or made up entirely.

Are the authors actually trying to deceive readers? Or do they intend to make points through satire, only to have their words taken at face value when the context is lost in transit?

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Reach out and shake someone

Muslim Day Parade 2014, New York.By most metrics, I spend far too much time on Facebook — which of course means I think it’s just enough.

I consider my posts there “pencil shavings”: scattered puns, absurdism and issues that quickly capture whatever’s crossed my mind. Questions I ask about politics or culture often kick off lengthy debates among interesting people. They may bottom out in angry stalemates or fall victim to Godwin’s Law, but I find they help me work through what’s bugging me most about the issue.

One topic I come back to again and again is a type of content that Facebook eats up: flawed stories that gain momentum through shares and likes, usually with a strong political bias, usually repeated by like-minded sites, usually anecdotal, sometimes invented under the guise of satire but repeated as truth.

Whether they’re on or Daily Kos or sites that are smaller and/or even sloppier, there’s more wrong with these stories than I can cover in one post. So I’ll concentrate on a simple journalistic skill that seems to have been forgotten in the era of reporting on others’ reporting: picking up the telephone and calling primary sources.

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I am curious (Ello)

ello logoOdds are this post will seem anachronistic six months from now, but I’m still excited about the flash of interest in social-media upstart Ello, inspired in large part by Facebook’s continued incomprehension of some sociological fundamentals.

As I’ve noted in a few forums, Ello has picked up new accounts started by tech-savvy users, people who use stage names and other pseudonyms, and even news sites in the wake of a dust-up over Facebook’s draconian enforcement of its real-names policy to exile drag queens and other users who employ monikers other than their birth names (disproportionately targeting the LGBT community).

Facebook VP of Product Chris Cox last week ran a post apologizing for the crackdown and attributing it to one user reporting hundreds of drag performers. While the rules will remain the same, Cox wrote, the company will apply them with more sensitivity.

Cox’s assurances may have worked. (And I actually believe he’s being honest in his dismay about the unintended consequences of Facebook’s rules and the company’s wish to do better.) Anecdotally, I’m now seeing less interaction between users I’m following and Ello’s admittedly Spartan feature set. 

But I’m still rooting for Ello to persevere, both because I’m enjoying the adventure of a new platform and the opportunity to think hard about Facebook’s critical mass in social media. Whatever Cox and Facebook consider the spirit of company policy, the letter remains very restrictive — and its enforcement hinges on enabling any user with any agenda to derail the account of another with a single confidential complaint.

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Google HR grows up

I’ve gotten some compliments lately about the way I work with Millennials — that vague demographic term that (from my perspective) includes adults born since the advent of personal computing.

I like teaming up with these people, and they seem to like me. The ones I meet in professional contexts are smart, enthusiastic and fluent in a language of technology I had to acquire as a young adult. (Granted, I was playing with art and music in high school, not computer kits.)

In the world of startups, Millennials are frequently the founders and big thinkers of the companies I help. I like to see my experience inspire smart people with new ideas, and their insights form a virtuous circle — I often walk away with my synapses snapping.

But there are moments when I think, “I’m a grown-ass man! Why do I feel like I’m applying to Burger King?”

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James Gandolfini, metatag

I horrified a lot of Facebook friends yesterday when I admitted I’d never seen an episode of “The Sopranos.” Until I got Verizon FiOS recently, my access to premium channels was limited; my kids have had dibs on the TV for a couple of decades; and I’m not great at sitting still or scheduling viewing times.

Nevertheless, I know how important the show and its late star, James Gandolfini, were to a vast audience. So now that the news of his death in Italy has broken, I’m waiting for the second wave: the swell of tangential stories that tie the even to everything from technology to automobiles to dining. It’s a mighty act of triangulation, and it’s something every one of us in the content industry has done at one time or another. There’ll be stories about tourism in Rome, sights to see in New Jersey, the 13 best cars in “The Sopranos,” and on and on.

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The right profile

Tech visionary with coffeeThis post from the profanely hilarious “Jesus Christ, Silicon Valley” blog has been around for a while. But now that I’m thinking through aspects of my own image, I came back to it.

The piece does a beautiful, obscenity-riddled job of taking down the overinflated imagery that’s spilled everywhere since social media convinced every technologist that they’re thought leaders and must look the part.

Here’s one of the few passages that I can quote without spewing Anglo-Saxon variations all over the page: “What in holy hell motivates someone to upload this type of picture as a representative photo? LinkedIn I conceivably get as an unsubtle attempt at resume-bolstering — “I am competent enough to speak to a crowd of idiots; love/hire me.” — but popping this on Facebook, where your “friends” are, exudes such look-at-me desperation I almost feel as sorry for these jackholes as I do anyone who has to come into direct human contact with them.”

I’d say you don’t want to look that desperate on LinkedIn, either. If you haven’t read this piece, do it — then don’t post a picture like these.