New York City, NY. 1997 – 2004 or so. Reanimated 2017.
First, play this:
That’s my old friend Nick Hill, introducing this band, Rosine, on WFMU on October 28, 2000, broadcasting from the Museum of Television and Radio in New York City. The other radio voice is another old friend, Laura Cantrell. I wanted to start this post with that snippet, because Nick has been ill and on my mind a lot lately as he recovers; stumbling across this bit of his fine booming radio voice from so long ago sent me into a rabbit hole of nostalgia and emotion, just the sort of thing I hope this blog does best. I’ve been away from it (the blog) for a couple of years, but I’m back. Thank you for reading.
Nancy Lynn Howell – Vocals, guitar
Lianne Smith – Vocals
Tom Laverack – Vocals
Jonathan Feinberg – Drums
Mark Donato – Drums, Vocals
Reuben Radding – Mandolin, Mandola
Philippa Thompson – Fiddle, Accordion
Josh Neretin – Percussion
Kurt Hoffman – Clarinet
Brian Dewan – Organ
Bob Beimer – Concertina
Al Houghton – Guitar
Diane Stockwell – Fiddle
John Frisch – Oboe
David Goldfarb – Trombone
Chris Washburne – Trombone, Tuba
Mark Lerner – Bass, Vocals, Guitars, Melodica, Banjo, Dobro, Percussion, Dubs
That was on the record, which you can listen to here as you read on….
At live shows we were a good bit smaller, and Rob Meador joined us on guitar and mandolin.
Crawling from the Wreckage
Rosine was my next personal project after Flat Old World disbanded in 1996. Careful readers of this blog will recall that I was in the grips of a pretty hefty dose of depression, which led to that band’s demise. So, although the date above says Rosine began in 1997, not too much happened for a while. I was beginning to write instrumentals with actual notes on paper—a new skill for me—and I got together with former Flat Old World violinist Diane Stockwell and my friend David McLary, both of whom were very comfortable with written music, to try some stuff. I remember us slaughtering the theme from The Third Man, and me struggling to play some of David’s material. I was also really interested in combining Jamaican rhythms and old-time and bluegrass songs, and trying to do dub effects live, so at one point my friends John Neilson, a guitarist, and Lianne Smith, a singer, got together with me and my wife, Nancy Howell, and someone on drums, probably Mark Donato, a few times. We did “Willow Tree,” by Hortense Ellis. We may have done “Bury Me Beneath the Willow” (I have home demos of me doing that around then). I had a notion at one point to do an EP with those two songs and my own song “Under the Willow,” which dated from the last days of Flat Old World. It was a waltz, but I was going to force it into 4/4 and do it reggae-style. That idea pretty much says it all about the early days of Rosine: forcing ideas together (bluegrass + dub!) and hanging it all on a thin conceptual thread (they all have WILLOW in the title!). Luckily, I was still pretty nonfunctional (depression) and couldn’t get a band seriously underway for a while. But by 1999 I got myself well and decided to do… something.
A New Broom Sweeps Clean, But an Old Broom Knows Every Corner
Having a band still seemed daunting. I was kind of fragile and my kids were very young. My last band had played out a lot and recorded as a secondary thing. This time out, I wanted to make a record first, with whomever I thought would be right for each song, and then—maybe—do a few shows. In 1999, I started rounding up people to record the Rosine album (I had the band name quite early on. Rosine is Bill Monroe’s hometown in Kentucky, and I liked the sound of it).
Phoenicia, NY. 2006 – 2010 or so.
Lukas Lerner – drums
Edith Lerner – vocals, guitar, glockenspeil
Nancy Howell – vocals, guitar
Mark Lerner – bass, guitar, vocals
How Not to Raise a Pedal Steel Player (or two)
When my twins, Edith and Lukas, were young (in fact even when they were still in utero) my wife, Nancy, and I used to joke about teaching them both to play pedal steel guitar. First off, it’d be a great act: twin pedal steel players, facing each other on stage! Second of all, they’d always have a job. (I’m not sure if this is really true anymore, but in 1994, there weren’t nearly enough pedal steel players in New York City.)
Once they grew up a bit and started listening to music, though, they seemed pretty genuinely creeped out by country music, so our plan was set aside. But the notion of how to pass on a love of music, and possibly musicanship, to our kids still loomed large. We encouraged them to take up any instrument they were drawn to, but we were very wary of pushing them too hard to practice. There followed a series of false starts. In 1st grade, Lukas took up the cello for a couple of tense weeks; Edith took violin and stuck with it for two years or so, somewhat begrudgingly. Then (5th grade or so) they both wanted guitars. Again, Lukas dropped it pretty quickly. Again, Edith stuck with it for a few years.
New York City, 1985-1987
Bill Fink – guitar, vocals
Mark Lerner – bass, backing vocals
Mike Marubio – drums (Libertyville)
Andy Akers – drums (Del Pez)
Kenny ??? – drums (South of Heaven)
As 1985 started, I went back to college, this time at NYU, studying film production. In April, I moved from the Upper West Side down to 14th Street and 5th Avenue, sharing a studio apartment (!) with my high school friend Mike Causey, who was now working as an assistant at a publishing house. We were so starved for privacy that we put a futon on the floor of our one closet, along with a glow-in-the-dark poster of the moon on the ceiling; whenever we needed to, either of us could escape to “the Moon Room” for some alone time.
My sporadic yet strangely detailed journal tells me that on Tuesday, May 28, 1985 (the last day of the NYU spring semester), I turned in a paper on The Grey Fox, saw a Judy Holliday double feature (Born Yesterday and It Should Happen to You) at the Thalia, and then “met with Mike Marubio and Bill Fink to talk about forming a band.” Mike and Bill were both at Columbia University. Mike had been the drummer in my previous NYC band, Hats Without Work, and had also played with Bill in another band, Double Felix (also called Felix). I knew Bill slightly from seeing him play with Felix. The idea was to do Bill’s songs, with a few covers.
Columbia University, NYC, January to May, 1984
Tom Adelman – acoustic guitar, vocals
Mark Lerner – bass, vocals, some keyboards
Mike Marubio – drums
Dave Robinowitz – keyboards at one gig
Folks, I’m diving deep for this entry. Deep into the world of shame. Join me, won’t you? Let’s begin with a band introduction that sort of says it all:
By the middle of my second year at Columbia University, it became clear to me I wasn’t going to stay there. As I’ve already written, I had big plans with my pal Dan Eilenberg to become the next Difford and Tilbrook (or Taupin and John). My dear friend Tom Adelman was also planning on leaving Columbia. His future plans included a career in the lucrative world of poetry and an early marriage (because those always work out, right?)
So with one semester left, we decided to play some music together. We thought we could take Tom’s LA-punk/glam/poetry mess and combine it with my love for pop music and have something listenable. Tom had no electric guitar at the time, but we figured, hey: Violent Femmes! Turns out that’s hard to do well, and my approach (overplaying the bass, with utterly horrendous tone) didn’t help matters. In our defense, we didn’t have serious or high hopes for the band. It was a way to kill a semester before we both left for what we hoped would be greener pastures.
(Adventures in the Kindie Trade, part 1)
Phoenicia, NY, 2008-ish – present
Robert Burke Warren aka Uncle Rock – guitar, vocals
Josh Roy Brown – lead guitar
Eric Parker – drums
Katie Legnini – vocals
Martin Keith – bass
Jack Warren, Lucia Legnini – backing vocals, until they grew up
Lukas Lerner – drums (subbing for Eric)
Mark Lerner – bass (subbing for Martin)
My kids never listened to a lot of children’s music. We got them some, and some was given to them as presents, but not much of it really stuck. Raffi’s Baby Beluga album got a lot of play, but I think that was mostly because my wife liked it. They Might Be Giants first kids album, “No,” was a hit with my daughter, but not my son. I remember a really bad reggae kids music cassette and some Sesame Street thing with Aerosmith doing Oscar the Grouch’s “I Love Trash,” both of which pretty much got ignored. A David Grisman and Jerry Garcia kids record was much more of a hit with me than my children.
We certainly never went out to see kids music. That was unthinkable back then. But then the TMBG kids albums happened, and Dan Zanes happened, and soon (too late for my kids) there was a whole “kindie rock” movement, which persists to this day. People take their kids out to see rock and roll, live. I think it’s mostly a good thing.
A Temporary Plaything
My friend Robert Burke Warren has worn a lot of hats (and still does): bassist (with the Fleshtones and RuPaul, among others), actor, songwriter, teacher, writer. But right around the time I moved to Phoenicia, NY (where he lives), he started writing and playing kids music as Uncle Rock (and the Playthings, whenever the venue size and paycheck would support a full band). His regular bass player, Martin Keith, is a busy guy, so eventually I got a call to come sub for him. The band members are all friends and neighbors of mine, and I play in various other groups with them. And, most fun of all for me, my son Lukas has frequently subbed for the drummer, so we’ve gotten to play gigs together. (I’ve also designed two Uncle ROCK CDs and a DVD.)
Bethesda, Maryland, 1981-1986
Dan Eilenberg – guitar, vocals
Mark Lerner – bass
Ken “Bidjje” Kavanaugh – drums
Jonathan Lipson – drums
Adam Gibbons – drums
Stephen Lewis – guitar
Billy Simms – guitar
Sam Jannotta – keyboards
Dave Robinowitz – keyboards
Jim Levy – keyboards
I’m going to get so much wrong here. For a variety of reasons many of the details in this entry are very foggy for me. So let me get a few things right, here at the beginning.
Dan Eilenberg taught me more about listening to and playing music than anyone else I’ve ever known. It’s like he’s the imaginary listener for just about any piece of music I write or record. Listening back now to the music we made together as kids I hear a frightening amount of what I think of as me, and realize it came from him. He pushed tons of classic sixties pop music on me (anyone who knows Dan will know that “pushed” is an apt description): The Kinks, the Beatles, the Band, the Byrds, the Temptations, the Supremes, Creedence Clearwater Revival. All stuff that’s pretty much the basis of my musical vocabulary now.
This entry covers 3 or 4 “bands,” but I honestly can’t tell the difference between them. Dan and I started writing songs together in 11th or 12th grade, and we’d play and record them with various folks. None of the bands really played many shows. We just wanted to be world-famous songwriters. So this entry is about our songwriting partnership more than any band.
September – June 2001, New York City
In October 1999, I saw a listing somewhere for a concert by the New York Mandolin Orchestra. On a whim, I went, with my wife and two children. I’ve loved the mandolin since I was a kid and had been playing sporadically since I bought one while I was in the Oswalds. The concert was sort of cool, if rather sparsely attended (my family comprised about half of the audience in the Washington Irving High School auditorium).
The New York Mandolin Orchestra has been around since 1924 (it was originally named the New York Freiheit Mandolin Orchestra). In the Twenties, there was something of a mandolin orchestra craze. I think it’s safe to say the craze has subsided, but the NYMO persists to this day.
At that first show I attended, there were perhaps 20 mandolin, mandola, and mandocello players, They alternated ensemble pieces with solos and duets, but the ensemble stuff was what was coolest. Even though the playing was more than a little spotty (the orchestra is open to anyone who’s willing to come to rehearsals), the sound was really neat. I was without a project of my very own at the time, and was in the middle of listening to and writing more chamber music-ish sort of material. I was eager to try the mandolin orchestra as a way to bone up on my mandolin and reading skills. But as it happened, it was nearly two years before I finally got up the combination of nerve and free time to show up and join the group.
Once a week I’d trudge over to East 15th Street and rehearse. The conductor, a woman named Jennifer Ruffalo, and a few of the players were very good professional musicians. The other players were, well, enthusiastic. I was pretty new to reading music (I hadn’t read treble clef since I was 13), but I found the pace was manageable. There were a lot of little old ladies in the group. I sat between two women with hearing aids. All of the mandocello players reminded me of Walter Matthau.
Consulting some of my notes from back then, I see we did pieces by Scarlatti and Hummel, chamber pieces that had been adapted for mandolin orchestra. We also did an adaption of Cavalleria Rusticana by Mascagni, and an arrangement of “Eine kleine Nachtmusik.”
In addition to the mandolin family, there was a woman who played various flutes and recorders and, incredibly, a pair of smoking hot identical twin young women who both played bassoon.
We played 2 concerts I can recall, both in the same auditorium where we rehearsed. The group breaks in June for the summer, and I didn’t return in September.