Monday, April 06, 2009

The Tommy Keene Handbook

The Tommy Keene Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide to the Music of Tommy Keene
by Geoff Cabin
124 pages (Paperback)
iUniverse, Inc. (2007)

OK, in the universe outside of iUniverse, not many people have heard of Bethesda's Tommy Keene, but he's my fave rock god, so to me this book is a big deal. Admittedly, when you take away the footnotes, bibliography/discography and set lists the 124-page book is whittled down to a scant 28 pages of actual text. But it's well-written and well-researched by Geoff Cabin - a Keene fanatic who also publishes the music zine Rock Beat International - and, as an unexpected bonus, I'm listed in the bibliography! Yes, I saw "Tom Warner" in the endnotes...I must have mentioned Tommy Keene my 1984 Baltimore City Paper interview with former WHFS DJ Jonathan Gilbert (better known as "Weasel").

WHFS DJ Weasel (aka Jonathan Gilbert)

Yes, I get one scant mention, but other Baltimore music scribes pop up in footnoted quotes all over the place, like former City Paper writers Michael Yockel and Michael Anft and former Sun critic J.D. Considine.

Anft, Considine & Yockel: Balmer's Holy Trinity of Rock Critics

The only other book I've read that mentions as much about Keene is Mark Opsasnick's out-of-print Washington Rock and Roll: A Social History (glad I got mine years ago at Record & Tape Traders as used copies of this 1998 title are fetching up to $60 a pop now!), which has since been updated and expanded into Opsasnick's rechristened Capitol Rock (Xlibris Corporation, 2002). Cabin cites Capitol Rock a lot.

The Stories of O: Washington Rock and Roll begat Capitol Rock

And I learned some stuff that I never knew (or had forgotten) before. Like how Tommy Keene beat out Chris Isaak for a cameo (and literally "15 seconds of fame") in the 1986 Michael Anthony Hall film Out of Bounds...both artists were signed to Geffen Records at the time, and Geffin wanted to plug its roster during a nightclub scene - Tommy got the nod because he had written the song "Run Now" (from the 6-song Run Now EP/mini-LP)...

...which fit perfectly with a chase scene being shot. (That's OK...Chris later got his Showtime series, so no hard feelings!)

Out of Bounds left Isaak out of luck

I also didn't know that Tommy Keene played lead guitar on Live at Bedrock (Clean Cut Records, 1982), a Bruce Springsteen 12-inch parody that included "(Meet the) Flintstones" b/w "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" by one "Bruce Springstone" (aka Tom Chalkley and Craig Hankin). The great cartoon cover (as shown below) was by drummer John Ebersberger (of Johnny Monet and the Impressionists fame), while the back cover was by Tom Chalkley.

Cover by John Ebersberger

Or that the name of Keene's 2006 album Crashing the Ether was '40s hipster slang for making a radio broadcast. Looking at the setlists in the appendix, I also realized that I haven't seen Tommy Keene live since he came to Loyola College (opening for the Gin Blossoms) back in 1996 (yes, I missed the Robert Pollard/Keene Brothers gig a few years back at Sonar!). I remember this gig because I couldn't find anyone who liked Keene enough to go with me, except Dave Cawley who, to his credit, has exceptional taste (except when it comes to Godzilla movies; he still refuses to acknowledge the genius that is Godzilla Vs. Hedora, aka Godzilla Vs. The Smog Monster). (I also recall that it was the last time I saw my ex-GF Sharon alive; she likewise had excellent taste - except, obviously, when it came to men.) The only glaring omission in the trivia department is Cabin failing to mention that Tommy Keene's roommate for one semester at the University of Maryland was none other than Baltimore videographer (and former Rockheads and DelMarVas bass player) Bernie Ozol - a factoid that perhaps means less than zero to Keene chroniclers but surely meant a helluva lot to erstwhile Terrapin Bernie. I must give omitted props where omitted props are due, as it is only thanks to Bernie-O that I have Keene's long out-of-print 1982 debut LP Strange Alliance on tape. (Dubmaster Bernie was also the first friend to make me an Alex Chilton/Big Star tape and he also made an excellent chromium oxide transfer of NRBQ's Yankee Stadium. So thank you thrice Bernie!)

Thanks Bernie!

Is all this trivial knowledge worth $13.95? Probably not, but I'm keen on Keene and my fanatacism made this purchase a no brainer.

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Blogger Whirling House said...

Based on your review, I probably don't need to buy the book? Growing up in Rockville, my geographical proximity to the hometown of Tommy Keene made me like him even more...I have Strange Alliance and Run Now LPs somewhere...unless some of that is on the Real Underground comp.

9:27 PM  
Blogger Tomchalk said...

Mr. Warner -- I came across your blog whilst googling myself (a must activity for freelancers) & while I do appreciate the plug for "Bruce Springstone" I must correct a common error: I didn't draw the front cover of the notorious "Live at Bedrock" disk. It was drawn by our drummer, the excellent cartoonist/painter/musician John Ebersberger of Annapolis -- who spent 11 years fronting "Johnny Monet and the Impressionists." I did the back cover, which is not (sniff) nearly as good. Tom Chalkley, AKA
one half of Bruce Springstone, formerly nearly hip.

10:19 PM  
Blogger Tomchalk said...

Dear Mr. Warner,

I see my old comment is still posted. Can you please change your web page to show that the "Bruce Springstone" cover art was done by JOHN EBERSBERGER, who also played drums on the record?! He's a genius & taught me a lot about cartooning and rock and roll, and it's a bit of an insult to him to have his masterpiece attributed to me! Tom (AKA Bruce)

9:54 AM  

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