Category Archives: Music et al

Story Weaver Extraordinaire Joe Frank

Story Weaver Extraordinaire Joe Frank

August 19, 1938 – January 15, 2018

Sleepless son of the sleepless fatherStory Weaver Extraordinaire Joe Frank

My father listened to the radio in the middle of the night. If I woke I could hear the soft tones of some seemingly distant program or if the Yankees were playing on the west coast, the announcer’s play-by-play.

I loved listening to the radio in the middle of the night.  As a teenager I’d slowly dial the tuner to find music or whatever caught my ear. I still am a night-listener, though nowadays it’s mainly podcasts.

At some point years ago when dialing around I heard someone telling a story. A remarkable voice.  In that sleepy-middle-of-the-night zone, I was hooked, but confused in a few minutes.

This storyteller, this Voice, had taken a turn somewhere and led me down the proverbial rabbit hole.

There was no Google. No internet to quickly look up a station’s schedule (if I’d even known what the station was). I never found out whose voice. Every few years in the middle of the night as the dial turned I’d hear him again and know I was in for another strange trip if I was lucky enough to have fallen at the beginning of this venture.

Story Weaver Extraordinaire Joe Frank

Joe Frank?

Story Weaver Extraordinaire Joe Frank

When I saw a headline that Joe Frank had died, I thought Joe Frank? Joe Frank died years ago. Then I realized I was thinking of old time  TV and radio personality Joe Franklin from New York City.

So. Joe Frank?

Yes. Joe Frank. After decades of wonder, enthrallment, and confusion, I’d found the voice.

Dozens of individuals and groups have since sadly noted Franks’s passing with glowing articles, interviews, and podcasts . If you Google “Joe Frank” the first page alone lists links to the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, NPR, WNYC, Slate Magazine, the Washington Post, Chicago Reader, and LA Observed.

WNYC’s Brooke Gladstone’s comments typify these unanimous plaudits: Joe Frank died Monday. He was 79. And he was a radio giant. He conducted interviews, read stories, wrote dramas, and none of it was like anything done before because it was so raw and, frankly, nuts. To many of us, it was shocking and sad. He wasn’t a huge star but his light has been reflected in the great work of people you do know

Story Weaver Extraordinaire Joe Frank

Who do we know?

People like Harry Shearer who said on Twitter: The great radio artist of our time has passed away. You will never hear anybody smarter, darker, funnier than Joe Frank. RIP, my friend. Check him out at https://t.co/yIYHeWiQHN No better honor of his memory than you hearing his work.

People like Ira Glass of This American Life who heard Frank and realized that this type of storytelling, this type of production, was what Glass wanted to try do, too.

Jad Abumrad, co-host and founder of the very successful radio program and podcast, Radiolab cites how important Joe Frank was to his career path. Abumrad spoke of when he first began Radiolab he was over his head, but after the show, Joe Frank came on…

“…and he was part of my shift. And every time, I’d just be like, what the F- is this stuff? I, I would just be sitting there listening to him and just like amazed and like mentally taking notes, being, like, oh, this guy has a feel and a — there’s a surreal-ity and a disorienting-ness to his stuff that I was just really fascinated by, and I was like, oh, I want to, want to do that.

Story Weaver Extraordinaire Joe Frank

Dressed like a chicken

To simply quote a piece Joe Frank cannot do justice to the power of listening to a piece, but just to give you an idea of Frank’s absurd genius, here is a small example:

There was a time when I danced on a street corner dressed as a chicken. My job was to draw attention to a furniture store down the block. One evening, when my shift was over, still wearing my chicken outfit, I walked into a bar across the street. I’d ordered a Bombay martini straight up, olives on the side.

A prostitute sat down next to me. She was young, willowy, had a faraway look in her eyes. Her name was Meredith. We talked about our careers, the importance of networking, setting goals, focus.

Then I excused myself, walked into the men’s room, entered a stall and sat down on the toilet and had a bowel movement that broke in two.

And half of it was still hanging out of me, so I had to wipe myself 50 times, repeatedly checking to see if there was more left on the toilet paper.

And written on the wall were the words, “Know that someone is suffering anonymously and unknown and that by the time you read this, I’ll be dead.”

Disgusting? Sure. Troubling? Yup. Intriguing? Absolutely. Keep listening? Hard not to. Where  was it going? How would it end?

Jad Abumrad spoke with Ira Glass on a Radiolab podcast tribute to Frank and both spoke enthusiastically, glowingly, and humorously about Frank’s influence on them. And if you have never heard Ira Glass drop a few F-bombs and you’d like to, follow that link!

Story Weaver Extraordinaire Joe Frank

A lifetime of illnesses

Joe Frank died of colon cancer complications, but health issues had filled his life from birth.

He was born Joseph Langermann on August 19, 1938, in Strasbourg, France, His parents and he escaped the Nazi pogrom in 1939 by fleeing to New York City.

Frank had club feet. His father died when he was five on a day of a procedure aimed at correcting that condition. His mother told him that his father had gone on a business trip.

One of his testicles never descended and when he was 20 he got cancer in his one testicle. Radiation saved him.

He had bladder cancer. He got colon cancer. He had scoliosis.

He had kidney failure and a first cousin donated their kidney to save Franks’s life, but later charged Frank for the kidney.

His colon cancer came back.

Story Weaver Extraordinaire Joe Frank

The road to radio

Away from doctors and treatments, Joe Frank attended Hofstra University (NY)–he said he’d cheated on his entrance exam. After earning a degree in English.

He attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, but didn’t finish the program.

He taught for 10 years at Dalton, an exclusive private school in NYC hoping to be a writing, but teaching was too time-consuming.

For two years, still living in NYC, he formed a company to produce musical acts at the Academy of Music in Northampton, Massachusetts.

On the drives between NYC and Massachusetts he listened to the radio, particularly liking baseball games, not so much for the way the announcers called the play-by-play, but the way the announcers told side stories. Radio became his passion.


Story Weaver Extraordinaire Joe Frank

WBAI to NPR

Story Weaver Extraordinaire Joe Frank

In 1975, he began to work at the Pacifica station WBAI in NYC. According to Frank in an LA Weekly article,  “in 1976 I was given my own show [ “In the Dark.”] from 4 a.m. to 5 a.m., every Tuesday. I figured nobody was listening at that hour so I felt free to do whatever I wanted, and that was the beginning of the idea of telling stories on the radio. The show was well-received…”


In 1978, he moved to National Public Radio in Washington, DC and its “All Things Considered,” but that did not work out. He continued to work sporadically for NPR as an independent producer.

Story Weaver Extraordinaire Joe Frank

KCRW

Story Weaver Extraordinaire Joe Frank

In 1986, he and KCRW (Bakersfield, CA) found a partnership. His first series, Work in Progress, was followed by In the Dark, which morphed into Somewhere Out There, and finally The Other Side.

That relationship lasted until 2002 when a disagreement with Ruth Seymour, KCRW’s general manager, led to his firing.

By then the internet had arrived and Frank expanded his web page and his live performances.

He did return to KCRW before leaving again in due to recurring poor health.

Story Weaver Extraordinaire Joe Frank

Outside radio

Joe Frank was also a writer.  His site lists his published works:

Theatre Publications:

  • “The Decline Of Spengler” (New Directions 48, New York)
  • “A Tour Of The City” (Tanam Press, New York)

Three of Frank’s radio plays were produced for theatre:

  • “A Tour of the City” by Theatre Anima in Montreal, Canada, translated into French, which included performers from Cirque du Soleil.
  • “Rent-a-Family” by Stages Trilingual Theatre in Los Angeles.
  • “Jerry’s World Onstage” by Infernal Bridegroom Productions, Houston, Texas.

There are films he is associated with:

Short films based on Joe Frank’s programs:
“Hitchhiker,”
“Jilted Lover,”
“The Perfect Woman,”
“Memories,” 
directed by Paul Rachman

Coma and Eleanor
directed by Todd Downing

Magda and Dirt 
directed by Chel White

Finally, the industry recognized his talent with many awards.

  • George Foster Peabody Award “For creating radio of style, substance and imagination…”
  • Two Major Armstrong Awards For the “Most Innovative Radio Drama.”
  • Two Gold Awards from the International Radio Festival of New York for outstanding radio drama.
  • Two Corporation for Public Broadcasting Radio Program Awards for best Broadcast Performance.
  • A Broadcast Media Award from San Francisco University.
  • An Emmy Award for “Joe Frank: Storyteller” featured on public television station KCET.
  • Lifetime Achievement Award from Third Coast International Audio Festival. Listen to Joe’s acceptance speech (Stream | Download)
  • Mr. Frank is also a Guggenheim Fellow.

Joe Frank was also the author of “The Queen of Puerto Rico and Other Stories,” a collection of short stories based on his radio work published in 1993 by William Morrow.

Story Weaver Extraordinaire Joe Frank

Story Weaver Extraordinaire Joe Frank

Frank was 79 when he died on January 15 in Beverly Hills, California.  

“I’ve heard people say they’re not afraid of death but I never believe them — I don’t even believe religious people aren’t afraid of death,” he adds. “When a pope dies, people grieve. If they believed what they claim to believe, they would be celebrating the fact that the pope has gone to heaven. And the pope doesn’t want to die, either.”
Story Weaver Extraordinaire Joe Frank

I wish I knew your name sooner, Joe Frank, but you will always be in my ears.

Story Weaver Extraordinaire Joe Frank
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March 28 Music et al

March 28 Music et al

Fear of Rock

March 28 Music et al


March 28, 1955: from the NY Times: Memphis, Tennessee. The City Censor Board has banned the movie “Blackboard Jungle,” Chief Censor Llyd Binford said today. (see May 17)


March 28 Music et al
Roots of Rock

March 28, 1958: during the opening night of a tour promoted by DJ Alan Freed, Jerry Lee Lewis involved in a dispute with Chuck Berry over the line-up. Enraged that he had not been chosen to perform last, Lewis torched his piano during his set-closing number, “Great Balls of Fire.” (see Mar 31)


Cinematic recreation of the event.


March 28 Music et al

 New York City Bans Folk Music


March 28, 1961: NYC Park Commissioner, Newbold Morris, notified his staff to limit permits issued for musical performances in Washington Square to bonafide artistic groups. He also asked the police to issue summonses to guitarists, bongo drummers, and folk singers who do not have permits. (Washington Square blog article) (see Apr 9) (see New York City Bans Folk Music for full story)


March 28 Music et al

Pirate Radio


March 28 Music et al


March 28, 1964: with the increasing popularity of the Beatles and other similar bands plus the lack of airplay for them on the British Broadcasting System’s radio stations, Radio Caroline, the first so-called pirate radio station, began to broadcast off the coast of England from a ship. The combination of rock music and lively disk jockey patter played to a huge audience, but well out of reach of British authorities. (see Apr 4) (see Pirate Radio for expanded story)


March 28 Music et al
John Lennon and Nilsson

March 28, 1974: the Troubadour incident (see John Lennon Meets Brandy Alexander) was a wake-up call for Lennon and Nilsson. Lennon soon announced he would produce Nilsson’s next album, ‘Pussy Cats.’ They decided that the LP’s musicians should live together during the sessions. Lennon and Nilsson, along with Ringo Starr and Keith Moon, moved into a Santa Monica beach house.


On March 28, Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney unexpectedly joined Lennon, Nilsson and others for a midnight jam. Ringo had left, so McCartney sat in on drums and sang harmony to Lennon’s lead vocals. Lennon also played guitar with Wonder on electric piano. Despite the star-studded lineup, standards like ‘Lucille’ and ‘Stand By Me,’ marred by technical problems, were disappointing.


By evening’s end, Lennon and McCartney agreed to see each other again but it would be the last time the two ex-Beatles would play together in a studio. (Ultimate Classic Rock article) (see Aug 31)


March 28 Music et al
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Bill Graham Fillmore East

Bill Graham Fillmore East

March 8, 1968 > June 27, 1971

Bill Graham Fillmore East

3 Years, 3 Months, & 20 Nights of Musical Heaven

 Bill Graham’s Fillmore East was the counterpart to his San Francisco-based Fillmore venues. Located at Second Avenue and Sixth Street in New York City’s East Village, the Fillmore East began as the Commodore Theater in 1926. Immediately before becoming the Fillmore, it was known as the Village Theater.

Bill Graham Fillmore East

Wolodia “Wolfgang” Grajonca

Graham was born Wolodia “Wolfgang” Grajonca in Berlin, Germany on January 8, 1931.  During World War II, with his father dead, the Nazi pogrom underway, and his mother gassed to death on a train to the Auschwitz concentration camp, Grajonca fortunately became part of a group of children that the International Red Cross enabled  to ultimately escape to the United States where he was placed in an upstate New York army barracks. Later, a Bronx family brought him to live with them. Though not a citizen, he was drafted into the army and served meritoriously in the Korean War. Graham’s first experiences with entertainment came when he worked in various New York Catskill resorts, such as Grossinger’s (Liberty), the Concord Hotel (Kiamesha Lake) and the  President Hotel (Swan Lake).

Bill Graham Fillmore East

San Francisco Mime Troupe

In the mid-1960’s, Graham was drawn to concert promotion while business manager for the San Francisco Mime Troupe, a radical theater group. [November 1, 1965: Graham presented his first show, a benefit for the San Francisco Mime Troupe.] Graham eventually found success promoting and presenting such bands as the Jefferson Airplane, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and famously the Grateful Dead at the Fillmore Auditorium (between 1966 and 1968) and later at the Fillmore West (beginning July, 1968).

Bill Graham Fillmore East

Bill Graham Fillmore East

Fillmore East

Bill Graham opened the Fillmore East on March 8, 1968 with  blues guitarist Albert King, folk singer-songwriter Tim Buckley, and Big Brother and the Holding Company.  The hall’s characteristic schedule was a two-show, triple-bill concert several nights a week. Graham would regularly alternate acts between his east and west coast venues. Until early 1971, bands were booked on both Friday and Saturday nights to play two shows per night at 8 pm and 11 pm, which might end at 3 AM or later.

Complimenting FM radio stations then recent forays into progressive rock formats whose DJs exposed rock music lovers to so-called underground bands with their extended improvisational jams, the Fillmore East fed the growing appetite for live music venues and presented those bands as well as introducing upcoming groups such as Santana and Sly and the Family Stone.  Bill Graham made the Fillmore a safe haven where kids could experience the music they wanted without getting busted.  As he wrote in a letter published in the Village Voice just before the Fillmore’s closing:  it was my sole intention to do nothing more, or less, than present the finest contemporary artists in this country, on the best stages and in the most pleasant halls.

The list of performers who played at the Fillmore East is a “Who’s Who” of rock and roll greats. A very partial list includes: the Grateful Dead (39 shows over 28 dates); Jimi Hendrix’s Band of Gypsies; John Lennon and Yoko Ono who performed with Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention; the Allman Brothers (whose double-album Live at the Fillmore East is ranked 49th amongst Rolling Stone magazine’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”); Jefferson Airplane; Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young; Joe Cocker; Miles Davis; Derek and the Dominoes; The Chambers Brothers; Mountain; Ten Years After; and  Johnny Winter.

Bill Graham Fillmore East

Joshua Light Show

Bill Graham Fillmore East

An integral component of each performance, the Joshua Light Show provided a psychedelic art lighting backdrop behind bands . From the summer of 1970, Joe’s Lights, made up of former members of the Joshua Light Show, became the house light show, trading duties with The Pig Light Show until the venue’s closing.

By 1971 Graham had become disenchanted with the direction of the music promotion scene and closed both Fillmores. According to Graham: The time and energy that is required for me to maintain a level of proficiency in my own work has grown so great that I have simply deprived myself of a private life. At this point I feel that I can no longer refuse myself the time, the leisure, and the privacy to which any man is rightfully entitled.

The Fillmore East closed on June 27, 1971; 1206 nights after it opened.

Fillmore East

Bill Graham Fillmore East
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