There was an important change coming over Peter at this time. For some time, though he secretly longed to have a band, he had been convinced there was no future for him in rock'n'roll. Now he was beginning to believe it was possible again.
Most of that fall and winter he was casting around for musicians, unsuccessfully. One meeting would have consequences later. Peter put an ad in the Plain Dealer musicians' classifieds looking for "real punks," and a couple of kids named Gene O'Connor and Johnny Madansky answered. They were real punks. Gene had grown up with his mother in the projects on West 25th Street, and at the age of nineteen had already fathered two illegitimate children. Johnny had grown up on Buckeye Road, where the main amusement seems to have been to drink a six-pack of beer apiece, steal a car, and try to run down dogs. Gene played a mean Stooges-sound guitar, and Johnny could get a lot of pounding out of his twin-drum kit. They played with Peter a couple of times. Under Gene's influence, Peter bought his first and only Marshall amp, which he used for a rendition of "Auld Lang Syne" played at midnight New Year's Eve; other than that, nothing came of their meeting but he kept their phone numbers just in case.
It was the beginnings of the phenomenon called "glitter rock" that made Peter think seriously about doing rock'n'roll again. Now I suppose that, apart from the New York Dolls (who were "not really"), the glitter bands are remembered the way one remembers a fart at a formal dinner, an embarrassment about which the less said the better. But at the time, people felt differently. We may have forgotten what a wasteland the early Seventies were for music; but they were awful. The radio was well down its long slide into AOR programming; the hippies were aging fast; heavy metal a la Uriah Heep dominated the teen scene; people were making a big fuss over Leon Russell and of course there was the continuing series of Mud Festivals. Besides this flat, predictable debris of a decaying counterculture, there was nothing else, except a few years-old records by the Velvets, the Stooges, the MC5... and all those bands had broken up. Lou Reed had made one solo album and was in hiding. Now we have a counterweight, in the form of New Wave; in those days, the choice seemed to lie between pre-dental studies on the one hand and "Teach Your Children" on the other. (The illusion, of course, persisted that the two were incompatible).
The leading rock magazine, Rolling Stone, seemed to think this was a fine state of affairs. Sixties punk, and what experimental rock there was, they called "primitive" and "unlistenable;" they liked technological sophistication, being distant cousins of the guy who is real amazed when the sound seems to travel from one speaker to the other. So Peter had not only given up on rock'n'roll; he had given up on rock magazines as well, until somehow he ran into his first issue of Creem.
Creem these days is only the shell of what it was; its writers still go through the same moves, but in an increasingly empty and unconvincing way. Then they were fresh and exciting. They were writing about music the other magazines ignored; printing articles on the Velvets and Stooges, blowing away in a deliberately snotty-adolescent way the solemn jive of the counterculture; pushing for the new, the experimental, the obscure. Peter, reading this magazine, discovered there were other people out there who still called themselves rock'n'rollers, who loved the music he loved. And when David Bowie made Hunky Dory, and then did the Ziggy Stardust tour, and brought out Lou Reed, and got the Stooges to reform, it seemed to Peter that the moment had at last arrived when the music he loved would finally be accepted.
It is important to know this about Peter's personality; it is part of his tragedy: acceptance meant everything to him. Jaime Klimek, working away at his songs, endlessly practicing with a band of non-musicians, could ignore, or at least could believe he could ignore, his lack of acceptance. The Eels may have known that since they were more of a threat than their audiences, they were more in control. But Peter had a deep need for approval; he could feel real only if he saw himself reflected in other people. As long as he was alive, he had great difficulty bringing out his original songs. He was convinced that no band would play them, and that, even if a band could be found, no one would want to hear them. The bands he was associated with, and especially the bands he led, always played a great deal of cover material; they were underground jukeboxes. It was easier for him to play Richard Thompson and the Seeds and Lou Reed's songs; they were known to be good, but who knew that about Peter Laughner?
If glam-rock had not come along in 1972-1973, it is possible Peter would have committed himself totally to traditional music. He was always eclectic, and could find the depths in any style he played; he would have been good. But the glitter phenomenon meant to Peter that he could play rock'n'roll again with something other than the four walls to hear him; though this rock'n'roll was not his original style. The Beefheart-blues had gone, to be replaced by "Transformer." Peter began wearing makeup, and satin clothes, and platforms; he flirted incessantly with homosexuality. This about-face naturally caused some head-shakings and mutterings among his traditionalist friends, who wondered where the person they had known four months ago had gone. One can wonder if he was ever deeply committed to the glam-rock style; when the fashion changed, he committed himself equally thoroughly to punk. But Peter was only superficially a trendy; it was only that, whatever he did, it had to be in a style that would be accepted, and for that reason, he invariably adopted the fashions of the moment.
Since I had some bearing on the events that followed, I must now intrude on the story. Peter and I had married on his return from California, and as his wife, I followed him in his fads. He was encouraging me to begin an affair with a young lesbian named Natasha whom we had met at the Brick Cottage. Though I could never go through with it, I strung her along for a while, and so it happened that she and I went in 1972 to a gala art opening at the New Gallery. Among other events there was an electronic band called Hy Maya scheduled to play. Natasha and I were walking along, looking artistic, when suddenly there was a blood-curdling scream from the floor above. We, and everyone else, stopped dead and stared at the tall, beautiful girl who then leaned over the upstairs landing and said in a quiet voice, "The Hy Maya performance will take place in ten minutes."
So we, and everyone else, went upstairs to hear them. I liked what they did: broad, free sound constructions flowing into each other. But for Natasha (and therefore for me, since I was playing along), the main interest was Cindy Black, the girl who had screamed. I decided to find out how I could get in touch with her, and after the Hy Maya performance, went up to talk to the band. There were two members, one, a tall guy with a long black beard, looked too scary to get near, so I talked to the other one, whose name, I found out, was Bob Bensick. Bensick gave me his phone number, and invited me to get in touch, which I did not do. But the more I thought about it, and the sillier play-acting at lesbianism looked, the more it seemed that the person who really needed to call these people was Peter. So after a little persuasion, he called up Bob Bensick and asked him if he needed anybody to play with him. Bob said no, he and Allen Ravenstine had a pretty tight thing going, but there was a group of people who had regular jams at a house on 23rd Street downtown, and they were always looking for people to play with. So Peter called them up and one Sunday night went down to jam. When the jam was finished, Peter asked the rest of the group (Albert Dennis, Rick Kallister, and Scott Krauss) if they wanted to start a band. They said, "Sure. " A month or two later, they were playing at the Viking under the name of Cinderella Backstreet. They were the people Peter had been waiting for: accomplished musicians, but open to new music. Most of them had originally come from the Sandusky-Norwalk-Milan area of Ohio, and had followed each other into Cleveland. The move got started in this way:
In 1967-1968 there had been a band called The Munx. Denny Earnest played guitar, his younger brother Billy played keyboards, and a high-school-age Bob Bensick played drums. Albert Dennis was the equipment manager. Billy was a child prodigy, a thirteen-year-old virtuoso, and the rest of the band wasn't half-bad either. Denny's mom acted as their manager; thanks to her push, and to the musicianship of the band, they got a lot of gigs. The band opened for the Velvets once at La Cave, and Lou Reed is supposed to have been very impressed, especially by Billy's playing. They transformed themselves into the Sheffield Rush in 1969, and then broke up for a time. Denny went to California with his girlfriend Judy Spencer, a black, classically-trained soprano with a powerful voice and an equally powerful appetite for tequila. The rest of the band were getting out of high school and getting ready to leave town.
There had been younger kids, too, friends of the band, who looked on Bob and Denny as their role models, who practiced their instruments and looked forward to being in their own bands. So when Bob Bensick married and moved to Lakewood, and when a little later Denny and Judy returned from California and moved into Cleveland, the friends of the band followed: Scott Krauss, Leo Ryan, Pat Ryan, Albert Dennis. They met people in Cleveland: Tony Maimone, Cindy Black, Rick Kallister, Tom Herman, Allen Ravenstine. They became a loosely organized association of jam bands, occasionally pulling together to play out under Denny's direction, in a group featuring Judy Spencer's singing called "Froggy and the Shrimps." Their lives revolved around three buildings. There was a brownstone apartment at 36th and Prospect; Tony, a struggling guitar player, lived there until he moved to Florida, and Tom, called T or T-Bone owing to his spare, 6'4" frame, a girl called Darlene, who claimed to be a mulatto, and several more-or-less groupies, girls with feathers and rhinestones and red lipstick, whose number included Cindy Black for a while.
There was the house at 23rd Street, an old frame building dating from about 1910, sandwiched between a factory and a photo lab between Payne and Superior. Scott Krauss moved in there and painted his bedroom black. Denny and Judy shared a room. Albert lived on the third floor with a cat and a red telephone; he was very reclusive in those days. Leo Ryan moved in, and one night after a fight with his girlfriend, tore his room apart, smashed all the furniture, punched holes in the plaster, and then painted a few memos to himself on the walls, among them "Fucken Dumbass." Ever after known as the Fucken Dumbass Room, it was never used again. The first floor held two practice rooms filled with snarled black cords, a bathroom that, by common consent, was never entered, and a big communal kitchen with a scarred, filthy red linoleum floor and a leaky refrigerator. On the bottom shelf of the refrigerator, after Rick Kallister moved in, there was always a box marked "Rick" holding a loaf of bread and three or four hard-boiled eggs. Apart from that, the refrigerator wasn't used much; Scott and Cindy (who had become close) seem to have lived mainly on Doritos and potato salad from the Convenient on Twelfth Street. The house had a big front porch on which, in the summertime, you could sit and listen to the catcalls drifting over from the City Jail, two blocks away.
The third center was Bob Bensick's apartment in Lakewood. Bensick, by this time, was no longer the straight-ahead rock drummer he had been with the Munx. He was learning keyboards, experimenting with electronic music and jazz-rock; he was also (basically for something to do) taking art at Cleveland State, where he found himself, to his surprise, one of the stars of the department. Bensick, though his own bands have never been very successful, has always had a gift for putting people in touch with one another. He began to introduce the Cleveland State art crowd to the downtown music crowd, and a loose but fruitful association sprang up which still continues. According to Allen Ravenstine, he was also responsible for Allen Ravenstine. The story, as Allen told it to me one night, goes something like this:
"The thing that's really great is that I can trace -- helps me very much to keep my ego separated from letters from Spain -- I know exactly when this career started. It started the day Bob Bensick moved into the floor below me in the house in Lakewood, 1296 Cook Avenue. Bensick moved in and he liked to smoke pot, so that helped, and I met (Scott) Krauss the night that I met Bensick, hit it off with him right away. And Bob used to take these fuzztones and rewire them so they were oscillators; he had these little black boxes, and he played them for me; and I used to get stoned and go down there, and I'd fiddle around with these black boxes. And then after a while he'd start playing his flute, and I'd just play with the black boxes. And they were neat, I mean they made neat noises, and I'd never messed around with any kind of electronic instruments before. I'd tried millions of times to be a guitar player and just never could get the discipline together. I hated all that crap where my fingers had to get calluses, and I had to endure all this excruciating pain while my fingers were learning to stretch that far, and put up with the bloody fingertips till they got the calluses, and that trash; I really couldn't deal with it. It was too much regimented work that I wasn't into. But I liked the idea of playing music. So I'd just fool around with these boxes, and after a while I had three or four of them, and one day Bob just said, 'Hey, you, know you can get a whole bunch of those little black boxes in one big box, and they call it a synthesizer.'
Well, I still had the inheritance from my parents, so I bought one. And it was great, 'cause I lived in Mentor in this little house in the country, three acres of wooded lot, and a river running through the front yard, couldn't see the house from the front road, it had a big hill, used to get snowed in at least two or three times every winter, even with my four-wheel drive Jeep. And I spent two years out there not working, and just playing the synthesizer. And for the first few months, I actually like punched a card, I actually worked eight hours a day with it. I'd get up in the morning, and get real stoned, and play it all day while the other guys, there were two other guys living in the house, and they'd go to work. I'd play the synthesizer all day, and when they came home, I'd quit. Cause they -- there was no point in boring them, really. And then they moved out, and I lived there alone for a year and a half , and I just played with it. I didn't really work as hard as I did in the beginning. Toward the end I worked less and less; and then I suffered a great kind of apathy about it till I moved down here (the Plaza), and there was so much more energy down here, just generally, that I started to work with it more."
(On the Formation of Hy Maya)
"We had this big room in that house; I don't know what it was for. It was like a sun porch that somebody had framed in, real nice; it was too big to be a regular room. It was a big rectangle that had steps down to it, while everything else was on the same level, so it obviously started out as something other than a room. And it was a perfect room to set up band equipment cause it was real long. So Bensick and I -- I had that EML 200 that I have now, and then I had the keyboard that I have now, the little -- looks like a touch-tone phone -- and he had an Acetone organ and a 200, and he plugged those two together. And we had a big PA system, we had two of those Voice of the Theaters, in that little room, one at either end playing at each other, and we were in the middle. And we used to just do crazy things, we just jammed all the time. He'd come out and then we'd play for a couple hours, just straight, just go with it. And after a while we actually formed a band. And Albert (Dennis) joined the band, and he played string bass; there were two synthesizers and a string bass. It was real great. And after a while, I had about a twelve-dollar sitar, homemade, that Bensick had built. And we'd put a pickup on it, and ran it through a synthesizer, and I played it with a stick that I'd put a few tacks in and a rubber band around it, and I'd bow it, and run it through the synthesizer. It was amazing, made incredible noises. And we played a job at that Firelands College, out by Sandusky, the three of us; first time in my life I'd ever played out. No, we also did an art show at the New Gallery -- one of those times was the first time I'd ever played out, and it terrified me. So I drank I think like maybe closing in on half a gallon of dry sherry, and didn't feel anything from it; and then the minute the performance was done I was blind, and I don't remember anything afterwards. The whole thing caved in all at once.
(He remembers Cindy screaming at the New Gallery)
"That was really good, maybe the high point of Cindy's career. She was with us, I think maybe just for decoration; we told her, we said, 'We're ready. ' And she said, 'Well, you know, how should I get their attention?' And we just said, 'Oh, I don't know, be creative. ' About three seconds later I heard this blood-curdling scream. And it worked. There were a lot of people there...
(On their performance)
"It probably was impressive, just from the sheer audacity of it if nothing else, cause neither of us -- oh, I don't know, Bob was trained as an artist, I suppose he knew what he was doing: but, you know, I'm just a primitive, and that was a real primitive primitive, that one.
"I guess we did some other stuff; now I remember we did one at Cleveland State where I didn't play anything. I just ran the lights. And they had knobs, so it was like a visual synthesizer, I just fooled around with that.
"I slowly infiltrated Bensick's world, and it really is my world. Everything that is now me directly stems from that: the friends I have, owning this building (the Plaza), everything stems from the day he moved into that apartment. Which is why I know, like the whole thing has nothing to do with me. It's all fate, there's no doubt in my mind, cause I can trace it, to the day it all started and I had nothing to do with it. I mean I did not control Bob Bensick moving into that house, and my whole life stems from that."
Hy Maya seems to have been a very loose band. It's hard to pin down the membership, let alone the dates. There was an electric and an acoustic Hy Maya; at various times, Bob and Allen; Bob, Scott and Albert; Bob, Allen and Albert were the members of the band. Perhaps it's truest to say that Hy Maya was Bensick's name for his way of doing music; and that if you shared his style at the moment, you also were in Hy Maya. It is certainly true that all these people were very adverse to tight formations. They were young, and still learning; Scott Krauss in particular was wary of commitments because he doubted his abilities. They preferred loose jams; they were not anxious to pin down things any further. Cindy Black has said in a letter: "As far as I am concerned, the most constructive time took place during the events preceding the collapse of Hy Maya, when we all met randomly at Allen's cottage to smoke, drink, discuss new music etc.... No one was overly concerned with recording contracts, press, egos, etc. Just simply being kids."
Peter, obviously, was coming from a different place. He wanted a tight, committed band that would stand shoulder-to shoulder against the world, a duplication of the camaraderie he imagined had existed in his high school band. He wanted a band that would play out several nights a week, get press, get known; though he never mentioned a recording contract, he may have had this in mind too.
It is possible that if the jam band that night at 23rd Street had realized what Peter was thinking, they would have turned him down. But they thought he meant a band along the lines of Froggy and the Shrimps; five or six people all used to each others' styles who would work up four sets in a week and play out for fun. Peter said, "Let's have a band," and they said, "Sure." Rick, Albert, Scott and Peter worked up some songs, and played the Cooper School of Art midwinter party under the name of Space-Age Thrills. It was a good party: Tom Yody, the Cleveland artist, made his entrance by riding his motorcycle into the center of the room; our friend Donald Avery came as a nun, complete with lipstick and pectoral cross made of tampons, crayon-reddened at the ends. The rest of the band must have felt that it would be fun to play with Peter. A little later, Darlene and Cindy Black were worked into the band; as the Leatherettes, their jobs were to sing backup and look good. They were better at the latter than the former; in their feather boas, rhinestone-studded cutoffs, and low-cut lace and velvet tops, they were beautiful, but chronically off-key. The band's name was changed to Cinderella Backstreet, a name Peter had possibly derived from "Cindy Black"; they were now, Peter felt, officially a band, ready to take off. Probably the rest of the band had still not grasped what Peter had in mind; as they came to realize the difference between Peter's approach and their own, tensions would develop that eventually split the band apart. But for now, they had landed the Wednesday night slot at the Viking Saloon, we were moving into the house at 23rd Street, Raw Power was due to be released, and everybody was feeling pretty good.
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