So, I got into writing songs. The Waiting/Dancing single, combining upbeat pop with political plus a sinister Moog line, was a good first effort and I was getting the hang of the whole hooks and choruses thing. Marcus and I regularly went up to New York City, starting in 1982, when we dropped off copies of the single at a few record stores around the Lower East Side and St. Marks Place. My old high school friend Bill Gerstel helped us find the record stores.
Bill was a drummer in various new wave bands, including 3 Teens Kill 4, which had originally featured the artist/AIDS activist David Wojnarowicz. Bill and I grew up together in LA and knew each other, but hadn’t been extremely close. We shared close friends in common, though, enough to occasionally walk together down Melrose Ave. on the way to Fairfax High in the morning reciting entire sides of Firesign Theatre albums. I mentioned him in Chapter V; we were in a band together briefly in the mid-70s. Bill had moved to NYC about the same time I moved to DC, 1979-80, with similar motivation: escape to grittier climes and get involved with a scene. So, we became much closer after I moved East, both being ex-pats from LA. Sadly, he died from cancer on October 5, 2016.
Recognizing that no matter how much local notoriety we received in Washington, DC we would still be local heroes at best, we placed an ad in New York’s Village Voice newspaper for a producer for our next record. Al Twanmo was our manager at the time, and he encouraged this move as he realized we were at the point where we needed someone who could take us to the next level. John Neulin’s response to our Village Voice ad began a wild 4-year ride. His money man was Geoff Robinson, who had financed John’s own recordings under the name John Cells. Geoff had lots of money, had no visible means of support, and lived in Miami. We didn’t ask questions. Geoff and John liked our sound, and Geoff provided the wherewithal to record our two EPs (Extended Play records – 33 1/3 rpm, LP size but fewer songs): the 4-song “Color Blind” and the multi-mix “Good Times.” We released the EPs on Geoff’s Pressure Records, and each record had lengthy gestation periods involving recording and mixing in DC, NY, and Miami.
Recording both EPs was an adventure. We recorded the basic tracks for Color Blind in Washington, DC (No Evil Studios), spruced it up at a second studio (A Step Above Studios) near Times Square in NY, and finally ended up mixing it in Miami (Quadradial Studios). The first trip to Times Square, over Presidents Day weekend in February, 1983, was a particularly eventful trip, with a heavy snowstorm. Marcus and I stayed with John at a place on Canal St. and he took a taxi in the middle of the snowstorm to score cocaine in midtown. The recording session was drug soaked (John kept saying he needed a “little uptown and a little downtown”), with John laboring over the drums sound for hours. Later, John and Marcus got me all riled up while recording my guitar solo on Dear John. They kept telling me to do it “just one more time.” I was getting very frustrated, more and more pissed off with them and myself, and I felt like I kept fucking it up. The result was, of course, very good - a repeating riff that supported Marcus increasingly manic vocals - which of course was their evil intent all along, but, well, fuck you John and Marcus. Smiley face. There’s a LOT of pressure involved with recording, and I’m a perfectionist. To this day, I have a difficult time listening any of my own recordings – released publicly or not - because they are so permanent, like ants in amber. But, of course, I’m thankful for the memories. I remember, in Miami, listening to a mix of Nostalgia through headphones on a Walkman in the parking lot of the studio and crying about how good the interplay between Jim’s synthesizer line and my guitar sounded at the end of the song. I absolutely live for collaboration.
I believe we did the EP Good Times all in Washington, DC. There were four versions of the song in the “multi-mix” EP, ranging from dub/reggae style to straight pop rock. I can’t say that certain controlled substances were or were not consumed during the mixing process. It featured an absolutely killer sax solo from Ron Holloway (I mentioned earlier that he was in Root Boy Slim’s band); during his session, he would lay down one ridiculously sublime sax solo after another, boom, boom, boom, and after each one he would pause, we held our breaths, and then he would remark laconically “I can do better. One more time.” But don't take my word for it. Listen to Good Times here. He is still going strong with his own band and in Warren Haynes’ band. The man has some serious chops.
We got some good press on both records, and Good Times even charted on Billboard and became a minor hit on the dance floor of the Limelight and other NYC discos. I wrote it and was pretty proud of it. As Nick Lowe’s album title so aptly put it, it was Pure Pop for Now People, with its hook “after all is said and done, these are the good times!” So, Good Times was the culmination of this stage of my songwriting efforts that had started in 1980. I had successfully moved out of my head and into my feet, a long way from eccentric, esoteric, beat poetry set to music.
PS. At the same time: David Goldberger and Wonder Graphics, 1981-1984
Besides Marcus and Bill Gerstel, there is one other person who has passed on that I miss dearly: David Goldberger. David’s story runs concurrent to that of Acrylix. I worked for Dave as a picture framer from summer of 1981 until Christmas, 1984, after which I got the job at EPA in January, 1985. Dave became a champion of Acrylix and along with his lovely wife Hella provided us with a base of operations, moral support and most critically a mailing address at their store, Wonder Graphics. (PS: Hella reminds me that they also installed an extra phone line at the store, so we could arrange for gigs and things.) Dave gave me a LOT of flexibility with my work schedule, if we went out of town for a tour or to record, and a bonus just for dying my hair green. Other times he wrote reviews for our records, placing them in various underground ‘zines that he followed. He was an excellent writer and had a sharp, ironic wit. Unfortunately, he later developed a rare neurological disease and passed in 2008. Rest in Peace, Dave.
I had gone on unemployment in June 1981 when the environmental consulting firm I was working for lost their EPA contract in the early months of the Reagan Administration (because, you know, there were magically no longer any problems with our environment that required our attention). While collecting unemployment, I also found work for cash under the table with David, whom I met when I occupied the attic apartment of a triplex on Park Road in Mt. Pleasant area of DC, of which he had the second floor. My attic apartment was only accessible via metal stairs from the rear. I had mice in my apartment (not the pet kind) and regularly set traps with peanut butter bait. My morning routine would be to start the coffee and any trap containing a wriggling or dead mouse I would carry over to the door and drop it and the mouse into an open dumpster 3 floors below. It was very hot in the summer, extremely hot – the landlady (Mrs. Kinsey) was cheap and the wiring wasn’t good in the building, so I couldn’t use an air conditioner without blowing a fuse. Consequently, I would often go to sleep with a fan blasting inches away from my face, and if it got too bad I would drag my sleeping bag out on the roof, which was right outside my door, and sleep outside. I miss hot muggy DC summer nights. Really. I felt alive.
Anyway, before he opened a brick and mortar Wonder Graphics store, Dave was a street vendor of framed and matted 8x10 pictures of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Marcus Garvey, Billie Holliday and other black luminaries on the streets of downtown DC. We first met over piles of framing mat board and glass scraps in the alley behind our building; he was leaving the stuff for garbage pickup the next day. We got to talking and so I started by helping Dave and his brother Joel sell on the street, and then worked at the shop doing basic framing and mounting posters. The street was cool, you get to meet people. One time a kid buying an MLK picture from me for $10 used two rolls of dimes, the paper things you used to be able to get at the bank, but I later noticed that the rolls only had dimes on the ends and inside were pennies. Good hustle. I liked being outside, even in 95 degrees/95% humidity. First, I was in the shade, and second, when you’re outside all day you aren’t in and out of air conditioning like the office workers; that just makes the difference in temperature more noticeable and harder to adjust to.
This was a great time in my life and let myself be swept along. It’s strange how a chance meeting with someone in an alley (in a good way) can lead to good stuff. I guess I just kept my eyes peeled for Lady Luck to pay a visit.