Killer Queen.

For all those people yearning to hear me sing again … all those people who think there just aren’t enough albums on Bandcamp … and all those people longing to hear John “T-Bone” Shelby immortalized in song:

Your moment has come.

OntarioDarkLakeWText

Today marks the release of Ontario Queen of the Lakes, the latest Kurt Blumenau Bandcamp album.

It’s a collection of 14 songs, some songier than others, more or less inspired by the Rochester, N.Y., I grew up in. (Some of it may leave you wondering if, indeed, I grew up at all.)

Mark Knapp, the drummer from my high school garage band Fried Pig (you’ve read about him at least once here), lends his presence to a bunch of the songs. It’s not quite Planet Waves, as reunions go, but I’m happy it happened anyway, and I hope to do more with him.

For now we’ll content ourselves with this: Ontario Queen of the Lakes, featuring pick hits such as “In Canada They Do Remark’ble Things,” “Winter Track,” and “I Found Love (at the McQuaid Invitational),” this last being surely the finest song ever written about growing up in western New York.

It’s a free download, which means you don’t have to pay anything to possess your very own copy, or even five of your very own copies.

And, as always, I will extend great personal goodwill and bonhomie to anyone who sends me a photo or screenshot of a Queen of the Lakes song being played on their iTunes, phone, or other media device. (I keep making this offer and no one ever sends me any; I guess I’m gonna have to put up cash, one of these years.)

Go. Listen. Enjoy. Walk in peace.

The wrecking ball.

A story about an April Fools’ joke might seem a couple days late and a couple dollars short at this point in time.

But this story isn’t so much about April Fools’ as it is about gullibility and impermanence, both of which are eternal.

So come back with me (he said, grabbing your sleeve, rendering escape impossible) to an April morning many years ago.

It is Monday, April 1, 1985. I am in the sixth grade, not quite twelve years old. And I am listening to Dr. John Potter, the morning DJ on WMJQ 92.5 — Rochester’s less popular hits station — as he makes his listeners an unusual offer.

The offer involves Holleder Memorial Stadium, a 20,000-seat brickpile in the city proper that has hosted high school football, pro soccer, and even a few Pittsburgh Steelers and Buffalo Bills exhibition games.

The stadium is not even 40 years old in the spring of ’85 but has been edging toward irrelevance for a while. High school football doesn’t draw 20,000 people any more. The NFL no longer comes to town. And two professional soccer teams, both calling Holleder home, have folded in the preceding five years.

The city fathers have even taken to allowing rock concerts there, a common last step for sports facilities gone to seed. (Holleder is one of four venues in Rochester to host a Grateful Dead concert, and the only one of the four I will never set foot in.)

But even the stadium’s availability to longhaired hordes is not enough to keep it alive; the neighbors are touchy, and there are other, more attractive concert venues in the city and region. In the spring of 1985, the announcement comes: Holleder Stadium is to be torn down.

And so here’s Dr. John Potter on April Fools’ Day 1985, loud-hailing a freebie offer to anyone who will listen: To a few lucky callers, he’s giving away tickets to see the Wrecking Ball at Holleder Stadium on April 18 (or whatever the demolition date was; it matters not.)

He plays it straight, as though the Wrecking Ball were a band rather than an implement of industrial deconstruction. He throws in a few embellishments here and there, of the sort you’d imagine — along the lines of, “Yeah, I hear this show is really gonna tear the place down.”

And sure enough, the calls come on air, several of them, all unsuspecting: “They some kind of hard-rock band? … Sure, I’d like to go. Thanks, Dr. John!”

And by the time I am required to leave for school, Dr. John Potter has distributed his full stash of tickets — maybe even front-row — to see the Wrecking Ball at Holleder Stadium.

I was credulous (as indeed I still am, too often), and it does not occur to preteen me that the callers could be plants, in on the joke. It is possible that I, not they, were the gullible ones.

On the other hand, I can believe even as a jaded adult that, in a city the size of Rochester, there are people who (a) don’t follow local news that closely and (b) are only too glad to accept tickets from their favorite morning jock, even if they don’t recognize the name of the “band.” (Dr. John Potter, like David Bowie’s mythical DJ, had believers believing him.)

Time moved forward. What happened after that?

Holleder Stadium departed this earth as scheduled a few weeks later. A high-tech park occupies the site now. If you stopped a random sampling of Rochesterians on the street tomorrow, I wonder if one in 10 could tell you where the stadium used to be.

According to the FCC, WMJQ didn’t outlast the stadium by all that long. The station at 92.5 became WLRY in October 1986, then WBEE the following February. The call letters remain WBEE; it’s now a very popular country station.

I have no idea what happened to Dr. John Potter, but the most recent online citation I can find for a radio DJ by that name dates to the early 1990s. If he’s still in the radio business, neither he nor his station seems particularly active in promoting him.

He might have taken a new on-air identity. Or, given the state of the radio business since 1985, it’s also possible that he left the industry, went back to school and got a job doing night-shift tech support. (If he’s reading, he’s welcome to set me straight in the comments.)

The moral of the story, I guess: Years come and go; places come and go; entertainments come and go; people who position themselves as beloved daily companions also come and go; and only the suspicion that one has been hoodwinked lasts.

Good night.

“Music we like.”

Finding an airplay chart from a station you knew, before you knew it, is like seeing pictures of your high school before they added the big south wing …

or pictures of your parents before they had kids …

or pictures of your favorite sports hero in the minor-league uniform of his younger days.

You feel some degree of connection. But at the same time, everything seems so alien.

And so it is for me tonight, as I contemplate the April 22, 1974, airplay chart for WCMF 96.5, from my hometown of Rochester, New York.

Before you check it out, a little history is in order:

‘CMF was my preferred radio station throughout my high school years in the late ’80s and early ’90s, dishing out a predictable, reliable diet of arena rock — Zep, Bad Company, Steve Miller, Queen and like that.

(Its slogan for a time was “Outlaw Radio.” As risible as that seems today, nobody laughed in 1990 when ‘CMF would run an ad proclaiming itself Outlaw Radio, then play REO Speedwagon or something equally freeze-dried.)

I couldn’t take much of that nowadays, but Rochesterians disagree. WCMF is still on the air, with an only marginally updated classic-rock menu. According to its website, the three most recently played songs as I type this are “I’m Your Captain,” “Don’t Stop Believin'” and BadCo’s “Shooting Star.”

So, WCMF might end up playing the old warhorses until the sun swallows the earth.

It wasn’t always like that, though.

Looking at the 1974 chart — and if you haven’t already done so, g’wan ahead now — I’m tickled to see that ‘CMF had an alternative/progressive jawn going in its earlier days.

(Dig the gnarled old tree bending away from the sun, and the slogans “Unlike Any Other Radio Station” and “Music We Like.” No platinum corporate rock for this ‘CMF. Note also that the chart listed top albums, but not top songs or singles. The LP was what mattered in those days.)

In fact, the 1974 edition of ‘CMF was so far off the wall, I had no idea who five of the top six artists even were.

I thought I vaguely recognized one of the names, but beyond that, research was required:

Howdy Moon was a folk-rock trio featuring singer-songwriter Valerie Carter. Their only album featured a version of Carter’s “Cook With Honey,” which I once wrote a weird, schizophrenic blog post about in its Judy Collins version.

Harriet Schock was (still is) a singer, songwriter and actress who cut three major-label albums in the mid-1970s before concentrating on writing for others. “Ain’t No Way To Treat A Lady,” from Schock’s LP Hollywood Town, was later a hit for Helen Reddy.

Sharks were a British rock band featuring ex-Free bass player Andy Fraser and well-traveled session guitarist Chris Spedding. As far as I know, they didn’t write any material that was successfully covered by soft-rock chanteuses.

Passport I thought I recognized … but I was wrong. Wiki describes them as a German jazz-rock ensemble somewhat akin to Weather Report, and I note the presence of former Weather Report drummer Alphonse Mouzon among their long list of former members. Apparently they’re still around.

Snafu was a British heavy-R&B-funk band, one of those journeyman ’70s ensembles whose members would either go on to bigger things (guitarist Micky Moody and keyboardist Pete Solley joined Whitesnake) or were coming down from bigger things (guitarist Clem Clempson had played in Humble Pie).

Albums by Mouzon, Deodato, Charles Mingus and the Modern Jazz Quartet showed a solid bent toward jazz — and not all freaked-out fusion, either, as the MJQ stayed close to its cool-bop roots throughout its career.

(Tom Hampson, who hosted a Friday night jazz show on ‘CMF in ’74, is still playing jazz on Rochester’s NPR AM station, WXXI 1370.)

For the live-music freaks in the crowd, ‘CMF offered the King Bisquit (cq) Flour Hour and live sets by local and regional bands with names like Big Screaming McGrew and Ko Ko Morgan.

For those who still wanted to smoke hash and giggle a lot, the station picked up the National Lampoon Radio Hour and the Firesign Theatre’s “Dear Friends.”

And, as a stoney old-time touch on Sunday nights, there were Sherlock Holmes dramas.

(The WCMF of my era programmed a long-running program of local music on late Sunday nights, featuring a locally beloved DJ named Unkle Roger. I didn’t listen to it, but I wish I had, as it was probably the most interesting thing on the station.)

I’m not sure when ‘CMF gave up the hippie-freeform ghost and went corporate.

As late as July 1979, they were willing to let progressive-rock icon Robert Fripp do some live improvising on their airwaves — a sign they hadn’t totally abandoned their wild roots. The tree was still growing away from the sun, at least a little bit.

I would have liked to have heard that version of WCMF. I bet it was pretty wild, edgy even, by the prevailing standards of the upstate Seventies.

Outlaw radio, you might even say.

Mundane Moments: Hockey night in Canada.

Part of an ongoing effort to dredge my grandfathers’ photos out of the family scrapbooks where they sit unappreciated, and bring them out for contemplation.

Another installment, then:

ROCHAMBEAU, Quebec (AP) – When the streets ice over and the snow falls thick, the natives here still tell dazzling stories about Lyle and Jean-Claude Montraineau, the schoolboy wonders immortalized in Canadian history as “the Rochambeau Rockets.”

“I never saw anything like them, me,” local farmer Brien Saint-Denis said, nursing a beer at the bar and restaurant that sits beneath the town’s only stoplight. “They had une tete — one brain.”

“Remember when they scored in their sleep?” chimed in Jean Renard, the town shopkeeper. “No joke. They were asleep on their feet. You could hear them snore from the stands. And they each scored. They were tired from milking the cows, they said later.”

“You weren’t safe going to their games,” Saint-Denis went on, “because they used to put pucks through the glass. All the time. No one was safe. It’s a wonder someone isn’t avec les anges.”

The snow keeps falling, and the stories go on:

– The goal Lyle once scored in mid-fight.
– Jean-Claude’s astonishing ability to go from full speed to dead stop, and vice versa, in the blink of an eye.
– The brothers, arriving late at a game, splitting a pair of skates between them — one apiece — and still dominating the course of play.
– The “Montraineau Rule” briefly put in place by provincial youth-hockey authorities, limiting the brothers’ teams to permanent shorthanded status whenever they were on the ice.
– The number of opposing goalies who quit the sport and became preachers, convinced they had seen le diable lui-meme in the Montraineau brothers’ eyes.

“Gretzky?” summarizes the town’s librarian, Michel Arneault. “Gretzky avait rien. I saw the Montraineaus.”

It’s been 35 years since the “Magic Montraineaus” became the talk of their nation. And the mists of time have only added to the inevitable question:

How much of this actually happened, and how much of the legend is simply a self-serving folktale invented by bored farmers trying to put their town into the spotlight?

The Montraineaus’ most famous moments took place out of the camera eye, in countless identical youth-hockey rinks scattered across the farmlands of Quebec. There is no tangible proof of their achievements — and, to add to the mystery, many of the coaches and players they opposed refuse to discuss them.

“No. Rien,” shudders Claude Benoit, a longtime youth hockey coach in the area. “Some things, one does not talk about.”

The Montraineaus’ absence from the discussion only strengthens the doubters’ arguments. The boys who rumor said could have started for the Montreal Canadiens as middle-schoolers never pursued professional hockey careers.

Lyle developed a life-threatening allergy to Zamboni fumes, while Jean-Claude fell in love with the pedal steel guitar. Today, the older Montraineau is a computer programmer in Vancouver, while the younger plays in country-and-western bands in the Toronto area. Neither has visited Rochambeau in years, and neither speaks publicly about their hockey exploits.

“There is nothing to say, vraiment,” Jean-Claude says in a brief phone interview. “There is nothing to prove.”

No matter. The legend of the Montraineaus is deeply enough ingrained to withstand the futile search for details.

Especially in the farm towns of Quebec, where the brothers live forever in memory as tousled, heart-stoppingly gifted youths — like the pre-teen Paganinis of the national game.

“You should have seen them,” Arneault, the librarian, sums up. “Tabarnac. You should have seen them.”

XXXXX

In real life: Rochester, New York, circa 1980.
Mike Eruzione had nothing to fear.

An affront to public decency.

No particular point to tonight’s entry … just offloading a radio-related memory that goes all the way back to my elementary school days.

In the late ’70s and early ’80s, two stations in Rochester, N.Y., faced off in the hard-rock/album-oriented radio market — WCMF 96.5, and WMJQ “Magic 92” 92.5.

WCMF was winning the battle, and WMJQ was starting to get desperate.

So — I’m guessing this was sometime around 1982 — Magic 92 decided to play a little blue, adopting the slogan “Kick-Ass Rock and Roll.”

(It didn’t use the slogan on this October 1980 airplay chart, so it must have come along a little bit later.)

I saw a mention of that online tonight, and it reminded me of the infamous Magic 92 T-shirts that circulated around town for a season or two, bearing the “Kick-Ass Rock and Roll” slogan.

In my memory, they are classic early-’80s softball-style shirts, though they might really have been short-sleeved Ts. I cannot find a picture of one online for the life of me.

Every so often I would see one in a public place, and to an impressionable lad like myself, they carried a certain frisson of the forbidden.

Certainly, my parents — and all my friends’ parents — would not have let their kids walk out of the house with a Kick-Ass Rock and Roll T-shirt on.

I have a vague recollection that the shirts were banned in the schools of my hometown, as well. (Again, I was in elementary school at the time; this was the sort of rumor that magically trickled down from the exciting, distant world of the big kids.)

Those who dared wear them — at the grocery store, or Silver Stadium, or at the Fourth of July celebration — seemed just a little dangerous, a little devil-may-care. The sorts of people who listened to loud, clangorous, treasonous rock music that only existed at the very edges of my imagination.

Today, of course, I know the shirt-wearing lumpen were listening to nothing more dangerous than Foreigner and For Those About To Rock We Salute You. Which is to say, nothing particularly dangerous at all.

And the whole “edgy” stunt seems kinda silly in retrospect … both in regards to the people who dreamed it up, and the people who saw it as an affront to the public good.

Still, seeing the “Kick-Ass Rock and Roll” slogan reminded me of growing up — of being that age when you’re just starting to collect diverse information from the teenage and grown-up worlds, and trying to make sense of it all.

As for the radio competition, WCMF won — and in fact is still on the air today, playing hard rock of various vintages.

Having lost the album-rock battle, WMJQ switched sometime around 1984 to a Top 40 format — only to get its arse kicked in that format by Rochester’s preferred Top 40 station, WPXY.

(I was a Q92 listener during the year or two of my life when I liked Top 40, sometime around middle school. Didn’t seem like it helped them much.)

The 92.5 FM frequency finally got occupied by a station capable of owning its niche: country station WBEE.

(The joke around Rochester, apparently, is that the station’s call letters stand for “We’ve Been Everything Else.” It’s a fair cop.)

I guess WBEE’s success means it won’t have to resort to cheap tricks (or Cheap Trick) to attract attention.

Which is good: The high-school principals of Rochester have enough to worry about these days without having to deal with “92.5 FM: Shitkicking Country Hits” T-shirts.

Days of rage.

Seems like it’s been a post a day around here lately. I need to shut up already.

But before I do:

Something (I’ve already forgotten what) put me in mind today of one of the choice bits of slang at Penfield High School, circa 1989:

“Rager.”

The Internet tells me that a “rager” is common slang for a wild, no-holds-barred party — the kind where legends are made, and stuff ends up broken all over the house, and people feel pangs of regret when they’re 35.

When I asked about the term “rager” on Twitter, a New Hampshire-based acquaintance of mine essentially said, “Oh, yeah. A big party, right?”

(Only about a month ago, a Duke University fraternity got in trouble for holding an Asian-themed party nicknamed the “Racist Rager.” Nice clownshow, bros.)

But in my little corner of teenage America, a “rager” was an individual person, not a party.

I picked up the term from some of the kids a couple years older on my cross-country team. It was actually an abbreviation for “rage machine,” which was an especially high honorific.

And it could be used either sincerely …

Friend: “I had 16 cans of Piels at the party the other night. Started at 6 p.m., ended at 4 a.m., and I had Zeppelin playing the entire time. I woke up in my backyard the next morning with my mom yelling at me and a priest giving me the last rites.”
Me: “Ludwig, you’re a rager.”

… or sarcastically …

Friend: “I totally forgot we had science homework last night, so I skipped orchestra and went to the library to copy it off Mimi Moon. I think I’m running a D+ in orchestra but I don’t care.”
Me: “Ludwig, you’re a rager.”

(The line between sincere and sarcastic is never finer than when you’re 16.)

To translate it into 21st-century slang, a “rager” was a person who was going hard.

Which, in the terms of my time and place, generally (though not always) meant someone who was simultaneously attempting to ingest as many alcoholic beverages and listen to as much Seventies hard rock as possible.

Or, when used sarcastically, a “rager” was a person who was a total, unredeemable poser.

(“Poser” … there’s another great bit of slang. Do kids still use that for someone who’s totally lamesauce?)

I have no idea if anyone, anywhere, ever used the word “rager” in this fashion, outside about two dozen kids at Penfield High in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Still, I’m putting it out on the Internet, just in case someone goes searching for it. Now there’s a written record. Some future chronicler of the ways of America’s people will thank me.

Christmas Eve.

In case anyone missed me, I went home to the suburbs of Rochester, N.Y., for a couple days with the family. I neglected to cue anything up for my absence, and was having too much fun to take time to write.

I got up this morning to another horrifying news story, this one close to home: A gunman in the next town over killed two volunteer firefighters and wounded two others after intentionally starting a fire that destroyed several houses. The gunman apparently killed himself, as well.

I could probably have gotten to Lake Road in Webster, where the shootings happened, in 20 minutes from my parents’ house. I know this because this past January, gripped by a random desire to go see the lake, I did just that. In my younger days, I used to go to that neighborhood for high-school cross-country meets at Webster Park, too.

I stared at Twitter for a couple of minutes, trying to think of how to share this vitally important personal connection with the world — including my Lehigh Valley Twitter pals who had heard about the story and were already talking about it.

But I kept my mouth shut, for the following reasons:

1. No one cares whether I have any kind of tenuous personal connection to current events.

2. I have no context to add that would help anyone understand why some asshole (sorry, Ma) would take potshots at volunteer firefighters on Christmas Eve morning.

3. First-person stories are overrated. In the past two weeks I’ve read the “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother” column (from the mother of a teenager prone to psychotic spells) …
… another column about how autism does not correlate to violence, from a mom using her gentle autistic son as first-person evidence …
… and a blog post from a local journalist I respect, who used to buy records  years ago at a store in Newtown, Conn., and asked readers to spare some prayers for a place that “used to be my backyard.”

I know that sometimes personal tales beg to be told; and the ones I list above all came with good intentions and useful messages.

But the presence of Mother No. 2’s gentle autistic son is a single anecdotal story; it is not in itself an argument against linking autism and violence. (I couldn’t agree more with the conclusion. I just think that any specific example deserves one sentence, tops.)

And the local journo’s time spent in Newtown 20 years ago does not add anything to the appalling nature of the shootings there. My feelings about the event are unaffected by anyone’s peripheral personal experiences. (I would suggest that Newtown is everyone’s back yard now, regardless of whether you’ve ever actually driven through it.)

Similarly, I do not expect that anyone who knows me will feel any differently about the Webster shootings, or have any deeper understanding of what went on, because of my limited connection to the town.

It’s just another event that reminds us that senseless violence and stupidity can happen anywhere, anytime … even to volunteer public servants doing their jobs in a nice neighborhood the day before Christmas.

Where next, I wonder?

# # # # #

I was going to try to end this on a more uplifting note … oh, yeah, I remember now.

We got a nice storm the night I arrived in Rochester. Not a life-disrupting lake-effect snow bomb; just maybe three or four inches overnight to cover everything in white. I went running in the first cold flakes, and shoveled the driveway the next day with my dad and older brother, and felt rootsy and connected and at home.

We also took my kids to our family’s longtime sledding hill of choice. The day was windy and the snow cover a little shallow, but fun was still had by all.

I brought my point-and-shoot (Kodak, natch) … and while I was taking a couple runs down the hill, I shot video.

Perhaps the sight of a grown man kicking up his heels and taking to the bunny slope will add a little cheer to somebody’s Christmas.

I FOUND HIM I FOUND HIM HOLY CRAP I FOUND IRBIR.

Many years ago, in a cold northern hockey town with music in its soul, there lived a friendly alien.

Its name was IRBIR — an acronym for “I’d Rather Be In Rochester,” the local tourism slogan of the day. And IRBIR’s sole purpose for coming to Earth was to alert humans to the many joys of visiting Rochester, New York, via advertisements and community appearances.

(I was roughly eight years old when IRBIR appeared, and missed the obvious subtext — that the Chamber of Commerce must have had to recruit an alien spokesman because no human being would want to visit Rochester.)

It would be wrong to suggest that IRBIR was loved, exactly. But among Rochesterians of a certain age, IRBIR is certainly remembered, which counts for something. Earnest aliens who set their sights on the shores of Lake Ontario don’t come along every day, after all.

The problem with alien visitations is that they never last very long. And sure enough, IRBIR’s season in the sun (snow?) only lasted a year or two before the friendly extraterrestrial caught a ride somewhere else.

So thorough was IRBIR’s disappearance that even the Internet, that all-knowing source of sapience, offered no pictures of him. There were reminiscences here and there, but no pictures to truly jog the memory.

I know, because I looked. Multiple times. Over the course of years.

I made an intermittent personal crusade out of finding a picture of IRBIR. I went to the reference room of the Rundel Library in downtown Rochester, and pulled their envelopes of media clippings related to the Chamber of Commerce and tourism. No dice.

I checked books published around the time of Rochester’s sesquicentennial celebration, which took place in same period. No friendly alien there, either.

I looked on YouTube. Gone like yesterday’s thunderstorm, if he’d ever been there to begin with.

A few years ago I even tracked down the guy who’d developed the IRBIR campaign and sent him an e-mail. He was perfectly friendly, but not quite engaged to the point of wanting to scan in or photograph the IRBIR remnants he still had in storage.

Of course, I don’t really fault him for not immediately rushing out on a stranger’s prompt to dig out something he did 25 years before.

I still wanted to see the goddamn alien, though.

So did other people, judging from the comments on this page:

“It would be great if any visuals could be posted.”

” I would love to see a video of IRBIR.”

“There was a video spot of IRBIR landing at Cobbs Hill. He had a very nasal sounding voice. I would love to find a copy of that piece. Perhaps one of the TV stations has it? Anyone know?”

“I swear I am not making this up, but I can find no traces of IRBIR’s existence on the web, or in Rochester junk or antique shops – yet. Please chime in if you have any memory of IRBIR!”

Well, I am proud to report that today IRBIR is real. Not loved-to-a-raw-edge real, like the Velveteen Rabbit. He is real because, at long last, his picture is on the Internet.

Earlier tonight I ran the same Google search I’d run before — “irbir rochester.”

Most of the links looked familiar. But there among the dead ends, as if placed there by an occult hand, was a scan of a suburban weekly newspaper from October 1982.

I’d never heard of this newspaper before today. It has been defunct for 20 years. There is no earthly reason why it should be on the Internet.

I can only conclude it was put there to fulfill a quest. My quest.

I am going upstairs to open a bottle of Genesee 12 Horse. I am not sure yet whether I will drink it, or pour it over my head.

While I’m doing that … meet IRBIR.