Interviews Musings
&
Articles

Hot
Stuff!

Photos
& Ephemera
E-Mail

My
(Auto)
Biography
Home See us on TV!
Baked Potato
Radio,
Rondo
&
The State


Underground

Papers



University of Delaware Radio, The Rondo Ceneter and the Glory Days of the State

Newark and Wilmington 1971 - 1984

It was the winter of 1971 and I was 6 weeks away from entering the University of Delaware as a freshmen. Grudgingly, gingerly, the college was experimenting for the first time with a two-month mini-semester of intensive specialized study. I had signed on for a course in Filmmaking, having spent a good portion of my teenage years watching, shooting and editing film, first in 8 mm, now in the slightly superior format of Super 8. I had already made a 10-minute collage film, a surrealist romp that feature just about every avant garde technique I was aware of at that time all set to the music of Pink Floyd’s aural assault, Interstellar Overdrive. A few years before, WHYY had presented a series on avant garde cinema that was an inspiration, one that their revised mandate to go more commercial seems to no longer require.

Re-conceptualizing Duchamp's classic study in frozen movement, I titled my purely kinetic exercise “The Bride’s Striped Bear by her Brother Evan.” It is at its core a homage to every technique I had heard about over the years, utilizing found footage, scratched, painted-on, and re-filmed. It also incorporated footage shot to be part of a light show for a local Claymont band called “Hypocrisy, Unlimited.” Brides’ Striped Bear” had, like the band itself, only one public performance in that function, in the school gymnasium on a hot July evening in 1967. I had rounded up every projector I could find and showed as many of the Castle Films that I owned as I could - horror films, home movies, cartoons – as the band played on. Before long the crowd began making requests, not directed to the band and their musical repertoire, but to me, for specific films. It was one of my first tastes at programming for an audience.

The Film course met every day 4 or 5 days a week, taught by Mark Marquisee and Jerry Millstein who were involved in making industrial training films for the DuPont Company, retaining most weekends for their own projects. I set about to make a film that had be gestating in my head for a while, the Love Child result of too many Polish shorts from the 50s and 60s, like, Polanski’s Two Men and a Wardrobe. Gathering up a few friends and fewer roles of Kodak film, we sent off on a frightfully frigid January when even the sunlight looked cold to a handful of locations around Newark. The result was “A Small Gray Cloud is Killing the Garden,” a dour Maya Deren-inspirered psychological exploration that reflected its title completely.

At around this time I went to a meeting for the campus radio station WHEN, a 10 watt carrier current station that was only able to be heard in campus dorm rooms or bleeding in over the university phone lines. It was the closest thing to onanism to be sanctioned by the University.

WHEN at the time was a Top 40 station under the iron rule of a pathetic martinet name Dave Aydelotte, whose father was the long time broadcasting legend on WDEL, Dick Aydelotte. Looking like every other ROTZ Nazi that glorified war without ever having actually participated in one, Dave sported a severe crew cut was the perfect accoutrement to the smartly tailored coat and tie he wore every day around the station – and not in some retro-cool sort of way. I was in my own sort of uniform – black bell bottoms and t-shirt with hair down below my knees. We took an immediate dislike to one another. He did a show called “Midnight Matinée,” playing Easy Listening music that supposedly would make the most reluctant Sorority girl give it up. “Hello, you. I'm speaking only to you,” he would croon in a soot voice that was the mirror opposite of the bellicose tone he used to assert his authority around his fiefdom. He was sickeningly out of touch – even more so than I am now.


In the air studio, next to an ashtray, was a small box of 40 45s, the only music that was to be played, hand-selected by the music director to be safe and wholesome. This was somewhat odd since the first song played when the station powered up in October of 1968 was John Lennon’s “Revolution.”

Fortunately the program director, a student named Greg Lamearoux was aware of how out-of-date the station was given the turbulent times and was receptive when I suggested that I do a show highlighting cuts from the latest British import albums, obscure gems heard only on Philadelphia's few underground stations and the like. Permission was granted with an indifferent shrug, since the damage I could do at 2 AM on a Sunday morning was, like our audience, not only minimal but non-existent.

Al Engberg was a friend from high school, a moody introvert who looked like Art Garfunkel, especially when standing next to me who shared a similar physiometry to Paul Simon, even down to our hairlines. Since Al and I had similar taste in music, I invited him to co-host, as I suffered from a bit of mic timidity at the time. He would be “Mr. Words,” I would be “Mr. Music”. Both roles merged before the first hour was over when some sort of radio freewheeling, free-association, free-for-all ensued.

I christened the show “Side Two,” grabbing the metaphor of the alternate side of an Lp for this program’s commitment to the alternate side of the current music scene. It also was in reference to a line from Firesign Theater's debut album where a newly liberated political prisoner is asked, “What side are you on?” “Side Two.” “Then you're with us, come with me.”

On February, 21, 1971, we did our first show, starting cold with a David Frost impersonator interviewing people about shirts, then leading into a Bonzo Dog Band cut about same, followed by Moby Grape's “Omaha” (“Listen my friends, I'm yours forever”). We were off and running.

In those wee hours over the next six months we explored the entire 45 collection, finding many neglected gems, including The Move's newest, “Brontosaurus” a heavy dirge we like so much we played it back to back for a few times – and for many weeks after. Later in the evenings, as boredom would set, we would sometimes hold 45 Races®, putting two copy of the same record on two different turntables to see which one would finish first. Usually the shift would end with us hanging a microphone out the window and mixing in the sounds of the sunrise behind the music. The climax would come when the mechanical street sweeper rumbled down the street.

We were left alone and ignored, forgotten about really, until finally each of us scored shifts of our own, teaming up periodically on Side Two for what only I would consider “Specials.” Most notable, I suspect, was our annual Junior Woodchuck Rock and Roll Extravaganza, (“Eight days and three nights of Peace, Love and Underhandedness”), mirroring with ham-fisted subtlety, the Woodstock Festival of 1969. We would drag a microphone down a flight of stairs to the Men’s Room where I would interview the Sana-flush Man from the Woodstock movie (here channeled by Al who would punctuate his insights with the sounds of flushing. We wasted a lot of water that night.) The whole thing ended in a rainstorm that collapsed a dam and washed everyone away. The National Lampoon unknowingly stole the idea for their off-Broadway review, Lemmings, that was much inferior if I do say so myself, and I do.

One afternoon with nothing better going on in our drab retched lives, we went into the studio and began cutting public service announcements. Al began reading one about the danger of children running with sticks and I for no good reason adopted a child's voice and exclaimed, “Oh, goody, stick it in my eye!” Playpen Hi-jinx was born. Autobiographical in tone if not detail, it recounted the adventure of Little Billy, his older Brother Alie, their mother Agnes and father Ralph (who sounded just like Walter Cronkite channeling Ralph Kramden.) Their tormented neighbor was Mr. (Edgar) Kennedy, to whom Billy once was driven to observe, “You know something, Mr. Kennedy, you're not a nice man.” Now preserved on various episodes of Crazy College, I, and pretty much no one else, consider Playpen Hi-jinx to be some of the best comedy writing I ever did.


WHEN Reunion, 1999. From left to right: John Rago, Pete Booker, Geo. Stewart, Michael Fahey.

In a quiet corner of the English Department was an unassuming academic named Gerald Barret. Through him I received my first rigorous, systematic education of the history and aesthetic of film. During Winter Session for a number of years, we would be exposed to a deep sampling of the German Silent Cinema, Pre-World War Two French Cinema, The Films of Alfred Hitchcock's English period and American Underground movement of the 50s and 60s. For anyone with a serious interest in film, this was an opportunity that would not exist for long and unreplicated until the 1990s when Turner Classic Movies would do the same (in an unsystematic way) with the American Hollywood film.

He and Victor Spinski of the sculpture department also taught a class in the rudiments of filmmaker, spurring another creative burst on my part. I first appropriated the philosophy and aesthetics behind his silkscreen paintings to a series of three shorts presented as The Andy Warhol Trilogy. For the sound track I played a tape loop of the first eight bars of Sister Ray, exploiting the mechanical repetition Drela's mass production philosophy, the random that the technique invariably introduced while exploring the Velvet Underground's notoriety with the painter. Even though each film was less than 3 minutes long, the tedium and the sound track tried the patients of many an audience – which was kind of the point. “My Home Movie” was another film from that period, featuring single frames of everything I owned at the time, ending on a glass of ice tea, a personal talisman.

It was along this time that I began running a film series on Friday nights at the University of Delaware. For a quarter, maybe a little more, we presented a full program, staring with a Betty Boop cartoon, an experimental short, a chapter of the Grade Z John Wayne serial, “The Hurricane Express,” and then some off-the-wall, neglected feature. I broke ground (and filled houses) with the likes of Robert Downey’s “Pound”, The Monkee’s transgressive masterpiece, “Head”, and Richard Lester’s Goon Show-inspired “Bedsitting Room” . Why people came is beyond me; it might have been the smart-ass ads in the Review, two of the most noteworthy being, for the Monkees movie, “The S.A.C is proud to give you HEAD” and for Robert Downey’s ‘Pound,’ “When Life goes to the dogs, where do the dogs go? (Bob loved that one!).

At the time, the University took seriously its mandate to expose the latest trends, even in the arts, with a series of lectures by the leaders in their fields. I remember John Vaccaro and some of the other members of the Theater of the Ridiculous" attacked the sedate audinece with their wildly outlandish antics. In contrast, Buckmister Fuller opened our minds to other possibilities in a much more subdued manner. Allan Ginsberg played his Harmonium, Hunter Thomas put on his drug-fueled personae that was as nuanced as anything the Theater of the Ridiculous’ ever did. Auteurist film critic Andrew Sarris, film directors Janus Mankis, Robert Downey and Stan Brackage also made stops at the U of D.

In the early 70s it was still possible to change the world. The march towards tolerance expanded beyond the demands forced by the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, even appearing at the notoriously conservative University of Delaware. We protested when a gay theater professor found his career terminated which lead to a lawsuit that the University resoundingly lost and the president was all but cited for perjury y. Oddly it was around this time that the University came to tolerate the formation of the Gay Student Union, allowing it to hold dances, that many in the straight community when to out of solidarity while many a jock took perverse please hassling anyone who attended. The University added Woman's Studies and Black Studies to its curriculum, the corporate equivalent of an out-of-touch professor growing sideburns and wearing scarves. Smoking was allowed in most areas of the university and the student center served wine at Bacchus, (later it would be stripped of alcohol and smoke and renamed “The Blue Hen Club”.) And during its annual fund drive, the campus radio station offered as one of its premiums office WXDR rolling papers. Those were different times.

Musically there was Dr Harmonica (Mark Kenneally) and Rockett 88, Alfie Moss and Snakegrinder. The days of church basement coffee houses had passed with 60s, and with it went two of my favorite bands, Martha Lidd, and “Friends of the Family,” who had had a local hit with their beautiful harpsichord-infused “Can’t Go Home.”

The most exciting band to come out of the early 70s to me was Dale Dallabrida and Al Mascetti’s All You Can Eat. I especially remember the extravaganza they put on at Mitchell Hall. It was full out production, a full band augmented with a large horn section and too many drummers. Out of a side door obscured my mist, a refrigerator was rolled in on a handcart, the door flung open and out stepped the cryogenically preserved Kid Hollywood, looking all the worlds like a reprobate Ziggy Stardust. The show had a sharp satiric edge; the music had its edges, too, like a prog-rock version of he Mothers of Invention.

On the radio, Side Two continued to chug along, playing everything from Herman’s Hermits, to show tunes, to the first rap album, Lightening Rod’s Hustlers Convention, from 1973. Mixing braggadocio and sound effects over a funk beat heavy with bass, it spun an inter-city fantasy of sex, drugs and violence that would only get nastier in less talented hands in the coming decades.

The concept of concept album had become the new norm in all genres, at this time, mostly mixing muddled thinking with uninspired jams and stuffed into an arty gatefold package and sold at a premier. It wasn’t unusual for me to play both sides of F. S. Sorrow by the Pretty Things before getting about to doing the legal ID, then signing off with a 10-minute improvisational performance of feedback generated by me using a series of tape loops one very machine in the studio. Years later I captured its visual correlative in my video “Heat.”

In a quiet corner of the English Department was an unassuming academic named Gerald Barret. Through him I received my first rigorous, systematic education of the history and aesthetic of film. During Winter Session for a number of years, we would be exposed to a deep sampling of the German Silent Cinema, Pre-World War Two French Cinema, The Films of Alfred Hitchcock's English period and American Underground movement of the 50s and 60s. For anyone with a serious interest in film, this was an opportunity that would not exist for long and unreplicated until the 1990s when Turner Classic Movies would do the same (in an unsystematic way) with the American Hollywood film.

He and professor Victor Spinski of the Sculpture Department also taught a class in the rudiments of filmmaker, spurring another creative burst on my part. I first appropriated the philosophy and aesthetics behind his silkscreen paintings to a series of three shorts presented as The Andy Warhol Trilogy. For the sound track I played a tape loop of the first eight bars of Sister Ray, exploiting the mechanical repetition Drela's mass production philosophy, the random that the technique invariably introduced while exploring the Velvet Underground's notoriety with the painter. Even though each film was less than 3 minutes long, the tedium and the sound track tried the patients of many an audience – which was kind of the point. “my Home Movie” was another film from that period, featuring single frames of everything I owned at the time, ending on a glass of ice tea, a personal talisman, evoking the childhood freedom that came with the approach of summer. Reflecting my love of Japanese woodblock prints, “Waterworkings” is a meditative short of light as it is reflected off of gently flowing streams.

The Department of Communications gave me an hour late one Friday afternoon to do with as I will so I decided to use the time to explore the textual possibilities inherent in analog television. Inspired by Terry Riley's and John Coney's 1969 work, “Music with Balls” which I had only read about and have yet to see, I debeamed one of our color cameras causing any moving image to streak. I had it shoot a series of gliding glass balls enclosed in a miniature funhouse of mirrors with another camera reshooting that feed off a monitor to accentuate the rasters. The music was supplied by excepts from two electronic compositions by Mort Sobotnic that influenced me a lot, “Silver Apple of the Moon” and “The Wild Bull.” With so little time we had to perform the video live with one short break to reset the mixing board. The result was “Thoth” named in honor of the Egyptian god who invented an earlier form of communication, writing. A few years later WHYY selected it to run on its station, with a new score created by Delaware artist named Woz and some museum somewhere bought a copy for their library.

It was around this time that I began contributing comic and illustrations to “Even” Steven's Viewpoint magazine. One, a boarder-less chronology of an evolving shadow, proved surprisingly popular around campus, hanging on many dorm room doors like the secret signs hobos would mark on gatepost of the more generous homes.

Unable to stretch my college career any further, I found myself in Wilmington, part of a very limited and quickly apparent unsuccessful attempted at revitalizing the decaying city. Tom Watkins, Joyce Brabner, Craig Dawson and I were the foundation of an arts collective centered around the Rondo Center whose various parts included Tom Watkins's studio and apartment, a cinematique, and a comic book store, Xanadu, run by Craig. The 4-story brick building sat on the corner or 5th and Shipley streets and use to house one of nine newspapers that kept Wilmington’s population well informed (mostly about sports) as the 18th century drifted into the 19th. It was designed to be functional, large windows, floors of roughly hewed wide thick planks, spotted and stained by printer’s ink and lead type. The top floor once housed the lino-type machines, which hung heavenly on iron hooks bolted to a series of mammoth beams that ran across the ceiling.

The Rondo Center itself overlooked Market Street barely perceptible through two huge grimy windows and was dressed up with a few mismatched chairs, a couch and well-worn pillows scattered along the floor.

Tom and I booked most of the events at The Rondo Center, a casually scheduled series of programs that was eclectic in the extreme. The Rondo Center was named after an obscure 1940s character actor Rondo Hatton who suffered from acromegaly, a rare disease that progressively disfigures its victims, distending limbs and swelling facial features into a grotesque simulacrum of our Neanderthal ancestors. The once hansom actor found as sad sort of stardom as a horror actor employed by a studio pleased to be able to save a fortune in monster makeup in their rock-gut horror films.


He was the perfect mascot for Tom's biggest undertaking, a major Happening centered around the Rondo center and Rick Jones' studio across the street in what is now The Queen music venue. Christened The First Annual Sleaze Convention (and so far the ONLY edition of Sleaze Convention) the event brought the nascent New York Punk Scene to Wilmington. John Holstrom and Legs McNeal, the publishers of the Punk Magazine came down and Legs immediately vomited on the studio floor.


Soon-to-be super star Debbie Harry also came, having just left The Stilettos for a new band, Blondie. She gave me one of the first pressings of their first 45, “Sex Offender”, which immediately became a staple on Side Two for months before the first album came out. Sparing much expense, our guests stayed at the fleabag Terminal Hotel, a name never more apt, given its location near the train station and the health of most of its habitués.

The centerpiece of the weekend was the Delaware premiere of John Water's masterpiece of bad taste, “Desperate Living,” for which Tom had provided a key prop. John even came for the opening night and joined us in one of Tom's organic buffet dinners that came with the admission.

For the Sleaze Convention, Rick's gallery displayed a broad selection of outsider art, including a wall-size collage of detritus that I had collected over the years, including a Denny's face mask, a plastic ice cube with a fly in it, various penny toys from a time when such a thing actually existed all accompanied by and endless loop to crass commercials from local broadcasting stations. “If Corns, callouses and bunions bother you” “If you have a passion for fashion…” “If you didn’t buy your suite from Krass Brothers…” If, If, If…

Later that spring Edie “The Egg Lady” Massey, John Waters' second most famous star, came to town for a visit. Tom somehow convinced the city fathers that such a famous personage was a natural to lead the Wilmington Easter Parade down Market Street. It even made the papers, Edie dress regally with a basket of spring flowers arm in arm with a giant bunny.


Over its 18-month existence, The Rondo Center exposed the local cognoscenti to a mixed bag of delights. I was behind the booking of a potpourri film from 1938 called “The Goldwyn Follies,” that featured many of my favorite – and very obscure – refugees from vaudeville, including the Ritz Brothers, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. The music was by George Gershwin and proved to be his last film score before his premature death.

The most financially successful film ever shown at the Rondo Center, was a double bill of the TAMI Show and The T.N.T Show, some of the first movies to be shot on high-def video (by Steve Allen's crew) and then transferred to film. They are seminal documents, unseen for years, of many of the most important Top Forty acts of 1964, including the likes of Chuck Berry, Gerry & The Pacemakers, Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, Lesley Gore, The Beach Boys, James Brown and the Rolling Stones. The house was packed.

A patron of the arts down in Maryland somewhere lent us a tabletop half-inch video deck which I began to explore back at the Rondo Center. That first night I threaded it up and dragged the camera over to the studio's tiny balcony that looked out on the corner of 5th & Shipley. Framing the neighborhood bar to the right and the storefront apartment next to it for no apparent reason, I began to roll tape on the quite summer's night. After a half hour Tom became bored and so did I so when he said to turn it off, I did – just as a drunk staggered from the bar and made his way down the street supporting himself by leaning on the buildings. He was doing alright until he reach the apartment's picture window, which could not support him and gave way dropping a huge sheet of glass on his body as he tumbled inside. The elderly woman who live there began a long series of defining screeches, which seemed to awake the drunk sufficiently from his stupor that he was able to rise up and tottle away. Why he had not been bifurcated horizontally is a mystery for the ages that baffles me still. But they say, “God protects fools, drunks and children,” though I could never figure out why the first two would get such preferential treatment.

The machine did allow me to explore an area of communication theory that always intrigued me – the boundary between entropy and redundancy in a message. The higher the information content in a message requires that the transmitting medium be proportionally more predictable. The higher the information content, the less entropy or noise the transmitting medium can tolerate. This was what I set out to explore in “Gen X” (a term that had no cultural significance at the time). I recorded at random a simple 1-minute station break and duplicated it ten times, going down ten generations, each one accumulating more and more copying errors, generation after generation. I then splice them in descending order – physically, with scissors and scotch tape. When played back, I was surprised to discover, but in retrospect realized that it made perfect sense, that it was the audio that first to emerge from the electronic miasma, due to it having greater predictability in its structure. The picture followed, evolving to coherence several generations later.

The progressive music scene had finally collapsed from the weight of all the star egos trying to work way beyond the intellectual capacities. The top talents were still producing interesting stuff, but a level down, groups like Gentle Giant and Hatfield and the North, were really fouling the collage stations' airways while Bowie wanna-bes did similar damage to the no-longer relevant FM stations like WMMR, who had turn into the new commercial juggernauts.

Fortunately there were glimmers of what was to be as far back as 1972. On stiffening hot August night in the bowl of Gothum I caught the midnight show at Max's Kansas City of the “New York Dolls.” Their mastery of their instruments was rudimentary, their gimmick of wearing makeup and dressing in women's cloths already tired. But the music was pure 200- proof rock and roll - edgy, in-your-face, defiant and stinking of the streets. Fuck David Marsh; I had seen the future of Rock and Roll and it wasn't Bruce Springsteen.

Like an awkward teenager finding its legs, “Side Two” for the next few months would be an a uncomfortable mix of garage bands and prog rock, tilting more and more towards the former with each new release. 1975 left us on a high note with the release of Patti Smith's debut album “Horses;” the first album by the Ramons was already out but remained in obscurity until the following spring. Another trip to New York with Jerry Grant, co-owner of “I Like It Like That Records” procured a compilation album of bands playing at CBGBs, which quickly became another staple of the radio show (They were always very generous sharing the latest releases with me to play on Side Two.) Jerry, who with his partner BJ Lobbermann, were now also on WVUD playing the best in soul on their “Hip City Pt. 2.” It lives on to this day on Saturday nights.

Tom's studio assistant, Julia Gordon, had moved to New York and was producing with Rick Brown, a true fanzine called “Beat It”, four- to -six hand-stapled Xeroxed pages with large picture a minimal copy. Once on a stopover from a brief trip to London she came down to the show and played the first airing in American of the sex Pistols debut 45, “Anarchy in the U.K.” Change was really in the air.


But not cigarette smoke, not any longer. Around this time, the university banned smoking in most of its buildings. At the station the smell of Lucky Strikes had largely been replaced with the even more pungent aroma of weed. So accepted my generation's most prevalent vice during its annual fund drive in 1975, the stations offered as one of its premiums official WXDR rolling papers. Even the student center stop serving wine in Bacchus and in an attempt to rewrite history reamed it “The Blue Hen Club”.

In 1977, local artist Rick Rothrock began working on a series off steel sculptures. Wishing to incorporate a level of chance into his art, Rick planned to construct a series of steel sculptures shaped like five-foot long Tobolone boxes, pack them with high explosives and let the blast add the final finishing touches. I was asked to document the process.

Looking for a visual correlative to Rick's process, I decided to adopt a more fluid camera style, hoping to also to capture the pieces' 3-dimentionality. I also used a mix of frame rates, double exposures and repeat action to accentuate the plasticity of film the same way Rick was with steel and C-4.

Bright and too early one Saturday morning, a convoy of fellow artist piled into vehicle of varying reliability for a trip to only god know where in the mountainous recess of Pennsylvania. There some explosive expert packed Rick’s metallic shells with his putty of death and lit the fuses with his ever-present stogie, throwing the pieces high into the air. Well, not the first one; it just fell over. Slightly embarrassed, Smokie made sure THAT would not happen again. With a deafening roar, the next one rocketed out of sight, disappearing in the azure sky for what seemed like an impossibly long time before suddenly crashing down in front of me way too close for comfort. “Dynamite Art” was the resulting film, which premiered at the Newark Art Alliance Gallery in conjunction with his show, then sat unseen for the next three decades in my basement.

A hot summer night seems to invite the gritty sounds of the Velvet Underground. Nothing else could cut through the stifling humidity. It was on such an evening that I drew a four panel piece for one of Steve’s magazines called “Dance, Monster, Dance to My Sweet Song,” starring Paul Klee's creations of the same name making his first appearance in a comic strip. Unfortunately its awkward size made it difficult to run in a standard size newspaper, and it never quite looked right re-composed any other way.

Also around this time I wrote a kid's adventure with the punning title of “Little Edie in the Tomb of the Pharaoh. An autobiographical fantasy of my childhood, it incorporated my love of the old Universal horror films, Carl Bark's comics, sci-fi movies and my own adventure running around in the dense wood that surrounded our community.

It was 1979. The Rondo Center was gone and I had moved back to Newark. Barry Solan was familiar with my various film series at the Rondo Center and at the University and contacted me about a very interesting business enterprise he was about to embark upon. Barry was a true lover of cinema especially the edgier American Narrative film, The French New Wave and the exciting stuff coming out of Germany at the time. Barry had contacted Al Malfeld, a quiet little weasel of a man who had turned the financially faltering Theater of the Living Arts in Philadelphia away from its program of experimental live theater to the more viable xxx of repertory cinema, by re-branding it “The TLA.” Barry dream was to turn Newark's State Theater, another dying sub-run house, into something similar. It was a dream that quickly came to fruition in late winter of that year, only slowly descended into a fitful sleep of a financial nightmare before dieing some five years later. But like Life itself, it was fun while it lasted.

Once having learned all he could from Malfedt, Barry quickly bought the dead weight out and began programming the theater himself with a wildly exciting series of film. Nearly every important movie played the State Theater in a parade of double bills that changed two or three times a week, with more films added at midnights on the weekends.

In the deceptive glow of the State’s early success, Barry tried the same sort of programming in Wilmington, at the Rialto down on Second & Market. Even with his assurance that there was plenty of free parking within running distance of the theater, not enough suburbanites were willing to venture into such uncharted seas of the decaying inter-city. It closed with a year.

In late 1976 WHEN became a real station, now broadcasting on the FM at a blistering 100 watts. With that change came new call letter, “WXDR” - “Experimental Delaware Radio.” And with the change came new shows. Carl Goldstein took to the air with mix of country, bluegrass and old time music” on his influential “Fire on the Mountain.” “Hip City joined up as did programs devoted to Big Band Music, old cylendar recordings and Indian music, all of which continue in one form or fashion to this day.

Dale Dallabreta and Al Macetti filled a late night spot with “White Noise/Window on the World,” which found the two and whoever else happened by or called in participating in a rondole of insignificant news stories, random chatter and running jokes, all mixed with madness by sound engineer Mike Moss who made the voices spin from speaker to speaker, or fry like bacon in a skillet or descend into reverb. They would trade odd news headlines with each other, a continuing favorite coming from the Business page, but repeated so often that it became something of a mantra, “Red Ink Blurs Blue Skies as Tax Time Approaches.” Adding to the absurdity was the musical background: the same side of a Time-Life album played over and over for two and a half hours. John Cage would have been proud.

One of the songs on that scratchy LP was “Swing Safari,” a.k.a “The Match Game Theme”. I happened to have dropped in one night and after about the 15th time of hearing it I began improvising lyrics. “The rabbits, the rabbits, the monkeys, a monkey. A chicken, The chickens. A dead cockatoo…” Proving the principal that repetition can be funny, it caught on and I recorded it with sped up voices for a later show of mine called “Crazy College.” The public shrugged.

The increase in power also brought an increase in influence for Side Two. 1977 found punk and new wave at their most creative, a breath of fresh air blowing the cobwebs off the self indulgence that now passed for rock and roll. It was also something teenagers, could call their own, by no sick to death of hearing us baby boomers yammering on about how exciting it was back in the 6os. Rap and hip hop appeared on the scene, hitting a personal blindspot in me that was formerly filled by disco. Neither spoke to me and I rarely played anything I didn’t like, no matter how much requested. It’s one of the few advantages of not getting paid.


At the turn of the century, the State Theater was a vaudeville house (every city had one.) Now the movie screen hide a decent size stage with four dressing rooms lining the back. Every now and then we would book musical acts at the State, letting it revert back to its glory for a few hours. It was a move made more out of our personal love for certain musicians, devoid of any sort of marketing logic. Barry brought in Rick Danko and Paul Butterfield for a great double bill. Muddy Waters also appeared one night. I brought in John Cale. All lost money, but the ex-Velvet lost the least - only because he was the cheapest.


George Thorogood played there several times, always packing the houses and putting on a high-energy show. Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers exceeded him in musicianship and matched him in crowd-pleasing antics, once emerging from a coffin and then walking across the top of the theater seats while blasting away on his guitar.

The first time he played the State it was as the drummer in Bob Ross’ band, The Christian Sniper. I always wished I had bought one of the T-shirts: a picture of the Pope holding an Uzi over his head.

A well-respected guitar maker, Bob had made one for himself, a clear body Plexiglas Flying V that looked really cool but weighed a ton. Bob was booked to open the weekly showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. There were the hoped-for boos when I announced that before the program began there would be a short documentary about the clubbing of rich women so seals could have nice coats, which was the cue for the projectionist to start running avant guarde nightmare “Un Chien Andalou” by Salvador Dali and Louis Buñuel. As soon-to-be legendary director took a straight razor across the eye of an aristocratic woman, Bob let out with a god-awful guitar run that would frighten Cerberus into submission as the screen rose and reveled the band. Bob was decked out in a Girl Scout uniform, eating popcorn from a Stay Free box, as Tommy Conwell attacked his drums and Phil vamped on his Farfisa before launching into a Dick Dale instrumental. Barry would also book people on the spur of the moment, just for the hell of it. Once Edie the Egg Lady was in town, and Barry slipped her a few bucks to lipsyc to her recording of “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” It was a nice gesture on Barry’s part but then he didn’t have to help strap Edie into our black vinyl dominatrix outfit.


One weekend the State put on a real marathon running nearly dusk to dawn. Anyone who would play cheap or for free was on the bill, as was a belly dancer, jugglers and a guy in a hamster suit who was the emcee. The whole thing was video taped by Rollins Cable for some reason, a priceless document that no one has been able locate since. Even I, who was on the clock, gave up around 3 AM and went home.

After several months it was becoming increasingly clear that there weren’t enough cinephiles in the area to make it possible for the State to stay solvent even with the rather loose accounting practices that were possible before the age of computerized ticketing. A solution presented itself if we wouldn’t mind abusing our first amendment rights (every now and then it is important to exercise them if for no other reason than to keep them limber.)

With that in mind, and no other solution at hand Barry initiated a series of midnight porn shows, starting with Deep Throat. The town fathers were not on board with this; indeed they did everything possible to prevent it. First we all had to submit to background checks. Each of us was handed a multi-page form to fill out, beginning with “Full Name” followed on the next line by “Known Aliases.” Not taking this at all seriously, the staff spent one evening bantering about very inventive nicknames. I am on file, somewhere, in some storeroom, as George “Six Fingers” Stewart.

When all roadblocks had been circumvented, Barry held what would soon be a monthly event, advertised as The State Theater Rent Party (“Rated X. No one admitted without money”). The print was hot, having mysteriously fallen off the loading dock of some film exchange in New Jersey, a good way to end up dead on some back road in the Pine Barrens.

The first of the Rent Parties corresponded with Fraternity Pledge Week and the place was packed with more Greeks than Athens during the holidays. Every seat was taken, upstairs and down, over 500 in all, at $3.00 a head. It took forever to get every one in and most of them were drunk; the sound of empty Miller bottles rolling down the racked floor to the front of the screen became something of a game as the crowd grew restless.

Michael Bradley would prove to be a long time employee trapped in a long series of Barry-owned businesses, starting with the State. That first night he and I were up in the front of the balcony, fruitlessly trying to find some way to get more people in when a drunken pledge next to us tried to get up to “hit the head.” Unfortunately his sense of balance was clearly impaired and he went head over heels off the balcony as we stared dumbfounded in amazement. Time froze; death awaited the unsuspecting below and Mike and I, in unbelievable display of synchronicity, each grab one of his ankles just as he was clearing the railing and pulled him back up. Where I, who considers Oscar Levant a role model, got the strength, only the gods could tell you, but as we pushed the now albino-white sot back into his seat, I glared at him with steely authority and said, “You sit there and you don’t move until the show is over.” He did.

At the time I thought of these porn shows in terms of First Amendment issues; today I am more aware of other elements involved, important with regards to the exploitation and objectification of women, but perhaps not as important as exercising our right to free speach. It seemed so much more clear cut back then.


Arguably one of the most influential films of the era was The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Mel Brooks had his peon to the old Universal horror films of the 1930; this was Brian O’Bannon’s love letter to Hammer Studios. Taking the metaphor of the Frankenstein monster as the ultimate self-made man, O’B added a celebration of polymorphic perversity, the sticky residue of one of the most liberating elements of the Swinging 60s and Self-indulgent 70s. In many ways it mirrored the decadent fun of the Wiemar Republic before it descended into the moral rot of the Nazis. Its mere acceptability was enough, participation was not mandatory, but it shaped the cultural zingiest until our national psyche gave into its collective nightmare with the rise of AIDs and Reaganism. More confused teenagers were helped in navigating those uncharted seas of roiling emotions by that film than any other.

Of course Rocky Horror was more than just another midnight movie; it was an interactive, multimedia experience, the logical extension of everything the Theater of the Ridiculous had been preaching over a decade before.

Many nights the feature wouldn’t get on until way past 1 AM, after a full bill that began with a live band, followed by a music film of Meatloaf singing Paradise by the Dashboard Lights, in the middle of which has sportscaster Phil Rozutu doing play-by-play of the back seat action. That was the cue for people in the audience to put on their mitts and play catch with a baseball.

As most people know, the action in the film would be replicated by a live cast of local teenage outcasts, all selected for their ability to replicate the appearance of their celluloid counterparts and the attention to detail lavished on their costumes. Like a religious ceremony, the audience knew their parts as well; when to throw the rice, what to yet at the screen and when (Audience: Hey, how do you spell ‘Urinal?’” Brad on screen: “You are...?”)

Since the theater was such a physical wreck already we were wildly tolerant of what the audience could do, as long as it didn’t damage the screen or wasn’t too hard to clean up. No eggs. No matches. No playing cards (they were hard to sweep up). We enforced this by searching everyone who came in, confiscating whatever we needed at home (I never had to buy eggs or rice. When the lauder grew low, those items would suddenly become prohibited.)

One of the most bone-headed things I ever permitted under my watch was when I let someone drive a motorcycle down the isle, across the front and up the other side. No one got hurt, but half the audience fell asleep from the carbon monoxide exhausted that filled the theater

Barry had procured somehow (from that same clumsy loading dock worker, I assume) the original final reel of Rocky Horror, which had been changed shortly after the film had been released by a more upbeat ending. Until the advent of special edition dvds, we were the only place you could see all the original ending carnage as Frankenfurter return to his home in outer space.

It was the rise of the video store that rang the death Nell for the State. Interest in “serious” cinema was in a decline and the studios stop replacing prints of all but the most popular titles as they wore out. Only in the winter months could we advertise, “20 degrees cooler inside; not in August when it would have been an advantage. I went off to the Big Apple for a spell to work at the Museum of Broadcasting; In 1986 Barry moved on to a more successful business as owner of a chain of video rental stores. The State's projectors struck their last carbon shortly thereafter, leaving only a dark screen that reflected a constellation of starlight. One Sunday morning while everyone was asleep the building was knocked down. No one was ever arrested.

End of Part One