AN UNFINISHED INTERVIEW WITH PAUL MAROTTA OF MIRRORS FAME
(By the way, the man pictured on the left is Jamie Klimek, just so you don't get confused...)
This interview was originally scheduled to appear in BLACK TO COMM #24 but was never completed, not only due to Paul's own preoccupation regarding some personal family problems that wife Jill was going through at the time, but mostly because of what I perceived as a back-stab on Paul's part (this having to do with the flippant way the liner notes I wrote for the Mirrors' HANDS IN MY POCKET CD were presented on the group's website) which got me (as usual) steamed to a point where I pretty much cut off all contact with Marotta and group more or less out of sheer anger than pride. In retrospect it does seem a little silly that I would flip out over what maybe wasn't such a glaring faux pas on Marotta or whoever's part, but then again I have my (for what it's worth) image to keep up and I do try to defend myself despite recent defeats at the hands of people I don't feel like mentioning at this point. However, I do have this small portion of what was to be a lot larger interview to present to you discerning readers, some who think I've written about Mirrors over and over again ad infinitum, but even if you too are of the back-stabbing variety (and believe me I should know, come on over and count the holes on my back!) I'm sure you'll find some information or worth and might in here somewhere...
BLOG TO COMM-I think you (or someone else) told me you were a child prodigy.
PAUL MAROTTA-Not likely I would have said such a thing. I never claimed it and deny it emphatically. I'm just a guy that has an ear for music, like millions of others. I took some violin and piano lessons as a kid, and sporadically since then dabbled at a few other instrumental lessions (I took clarinet and flute each for about two months). I'm a self-taught guitar player. I read music, but poorly. If I use the English language analogy, I'd be functionally illiterate. As an adult I went to a few piano teachers, but my lack of reading skills and undisciplined attitude always kept me from nailing down any serious reperatoire. When you hear kids who are prodigies, you know it. They have technical facility that makes your mouth drop and they can read anything put in front of them. So though I'm amused and/or flattered by the question/comment, It just ain't so.
BTC-You sure sound like you could have been one! So were you forced to practice your violin while all the boys were roughing it up outside, or did you get your fill of rock & roll during your formative years as well?
PM-Well childhood wasn't quite as depressing as you make it sound. And I never practiced enough anyway. I used to spend hours going through my mother's piano music learning pop songs from the thirties and forties, and I learned that I could write a song when I was pretty young, which was far more interesting. I won a composing contest when I was in fifth grade. The other entries were all sappy songs written by the school music teacher with the kids singing dopey words. I wrote a two-minute piano piece, forgot all about it and six months later they wheeled the radio into our classroom and I heard my first creation played by somebody else.
BTC-So, what was young Paul listening to during his early composing days?
PM-I was buying top forty 45s starting from pretty early. My first record was Chuck Berry's "Rock & Roll Music" on Chess, so what year was that? I also listened to lots of classical especially late Romantics like Dvorak, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff, some Mozart or Bach, a lot of popular Broadway like SOUTH PACIFIC, THE KING AND I, and minor shows like THE STUDENT PRINCE. Singers, especially Edith Piaf (my first real love) and Bobby Darin. And because I gre up in a Hungarian household (only my father was Italian and he and my mother got divorced when I was a year old) lots of Czardas and other gypsy fiddlin'. Country and Western was frowned upon in my house, but I really loved the electric guitar. No jazz until I was about eleven or twelve.
My mother was a bit of an audiophile. We had a component mono Fisher preamp and power amp, big blond speaker cabinent with a 15" and a horn. I remember when we had the guy come out to the house to fit the stereo cartridge, and we bought another amplifier and a second big-ass speaker.
BTC-So, were you attempting rock & roll at this stage in your life?
PM-Started out playing in a three-piece, guitar, bass, drums. I had a twelve-string electric and a Vox amp. PA was my old Wollensack tape recorder and one of those extra stereo speakers I told you about. I got a Wurlitzer electric piano and an organ which let us play more songs. At first it was like every other garage band in Cleveland, "Gloria," "Little Black Egg," "Satisfaction," "You Really Got Me," "It's Cold Outside" etc. After I got the keyboards we started to play some Animals, Baskerville Hounds, Outsiders and stuff like that and then as psychedelia came around we got into the Small Faces, Merry-Go-Round, Vanilla Fudge, Doors and that ilk. Didn't srart playuing my originals until about 1968 or so. We played a lot of gigs as either the Upper Half or thye Mourning Sun, or the Acropolis Pear Tree. During the height of the Baby Boom, there were dances at junior highs, YMCA's, high schools, CYO's etc. every Friday and Saturday night. Even the police department had a venue called "The Cell." So you'd need two bands a night at zillions of venues. I made better money during those days than recently. In 1967 and '68 a four-piece band could made $100-$250 a gig for two sets. If you factor in inflation that would be like $1200 a night.
BTC-Wow! What happened to the other guys in the band?
PM-From the first incarnation, the drummer was Bob Wagner whom I never saw again after 1967. The last time I saw the bass player Marc Blaine was at a Jefferson Airplane concert in Akron in 1971. Even though we went to the same high school, I never saw the guys from the second incarnation after 1968. Two of the guys were older and out of school, and the drummer just drifted away. By the fall of 1968 I started a psychedelic folkie phase, doing lots of drugs and doing solo gigs. I met Brian McMahon around then, but we never played together. Mike Weldon at that time was a guitar player for some band. Maybe Brian was in it.
I played with a Dixieland band called the Straws and Stripes. Straw hats and striped vests with bowties. It was pretty silly, but they had some good gigs that payed well for high school kids. I played electric piano and just faked my way through the songbook by reading the guitar chords and vamping along. I didn't last too long but I remember one arguement at rehearsal very vividly. The question was whether one could or should rehearse an improvised solo. How could it be improvised it it was rehearsed? (I still wrestle with that issue. A certain amount of the unexpected has always been a part of a Styrenes show. But if the band isn't prepared, then the audience can end up hearing and seeing some pretty awful music.)
Then for most of '69 I had gotten bigger amplifiers and was playing more electric piano and started jamming with some guys doing rock blues and Brit stuff like Traffic and Cream, Blues Project, Big Brother, Canned Heat, Yardbirds, Mayall. We didn't have a name and we didn't play any shows. Made my first recording in a studio then, strictly blues. "Shake Your Money Maker," "Outside Woman Blues."
I met John Morton in the spring of '69. I was still doing that folkie thing on Saturday nights and we took a lot of drugs and started writing songs right away.
I didn't play any more live gigs until spring of '70 when I did a solo gig in the Flats at a big festival. A guy from Electra got me the gig. I played electric guitar with stacks of amplifiers and sang, sort of like a Marc Bolan thing. I started making tapes then, but except for a few jam type things in bars, I didn't play any more gigs until the Eels shows in Columbus in 1973.
BTC-Tell me more about your solo career. Is this when the TOOL EP came out?
PM-Not much to tell, really, about that era. The only song from the live gig that survived at all was "Mustard" which appears on the Eels disc of THOSE WERE DIFFERENT TIMES. John Morton provided the words. ("When You're Using/Lots of Mustard/In Your Earphones/You Can Feel It.") And yes, that's where the name of my label came from.
I played at home a lot and wrote songs. What would eventually become "One Fanzine Reader Writes" was written during a period in fall '72. I also did a bit of the hippie thing, bought a 1968 VW bus (with a six-volt electrical system, the same one that later on John and Davy didn't like to be seen in) and moved with Jill and Paul Jr. to California for a short spell. Didn't like it so much but mostly because I couldn't find work. We came back to Cle.
The material for the TOOL EP came from the tapes I made during 1970-1972. I didn't have any multi-tracking capability so I would record a track onto a reel to reel deck, then I'd play it back and add another track wihle recording both onto another reel to reel deck, thereby creating the overdub. Though the results were decidedly mixed, both musically and technically, I learned a lot about recording. I kept making tapes like this up until I bought our first 4-track in 1977. The Eels' "You Crummy Fags" was recorded in Columbus using this technique.
BTC-Whose idea was it to release the EP? Did you put up the money for it? Did it get sold anywhere??? I remember you telling me you abandoned a box of them at a bus depot out of frustration.
PM-It just seemed like the right thing to do (the EP). I was real disappointed in the result. I suppose I was fooling myself into thinking the tapes were good. It's amazing what the mind can do. It was quite an earful to hear the finished discs. So I didn't sell them. I threw them around town and learned from the experience. Making the covers was fun. I went to a tool and die company and had a die made to cut and score them. I picked out paper and I silk-screened them in my apartment, laying them everywhere, over wire strung from the walls etc.
BTC-So this was around the time you were piecing together ideas that were to become the Polistyrene Jass Band?
PM-I started using the name Poli Styrene while I was in the Eels in Columbus in 1973. I began thinking of starting a band shortly thereafter. There was so much that was good about the Eels, the excitement of the music, the energy, reveling in being an outsider, knowing how much everyone really hated what we were doing, just the whole sound of the band. But there were also enough negatives to make me want to try something else. I was still making tapes, writing songs and I'd recently played bass for Mirrors at a few gigs in the summer of '73 and I liked playing keyboards. I was getting too cranky to stay in the Eels. But fortunately I relocated to Cleveland and Davy and John came after, and that brought enough change to let me have another dose of Eeldom.
BTC-About how long after TOOL came out did you join up with the guys in Mirrors?
PM-About six months after the TOOL EP I moved to Columbus to play with the Eels. Mike Weldon had come down to hear some practices, mentioned that he was playing in a band called Mirrors with a guitar player who was a mutual friend, Jim Crook. Although I had gone to school with Jamie Klimek's brother Terrence, I didn't know Jamie. Mike suggested that we might all get along. Shortly after the Eels gigs, I sold a couple of PA cabinets to Jamie and the boys. When they came down to Columbus to pick them up we started talking about things. Craig Bell was still in the army and Jamie asked if I could help out by playing a show or two as a bass player. I had a way cool Vox tear-drop bass guitar that needed a workout. And I liked that Mirrors was a real band that actually got along with each other, playing all these songs that were not that familiar to me. I had heard the stuff of course, but in addition to their original material, Pink Floyd, Syd Barrett, later Kinks and Velvets were not the things I had been playing. This was still the time when a band had to play three or four sets a night. So it was quite a challenge to learn all these songs in a short time and keep 'em straight. I needed cheat sheets on my amplifier for awhile!
BTC-So your Eels days precede the Mirrors era. How did you join up with the Eels?
PM-John Morton had told me about his plans to start the Electric Eels in late '72. Davy and Brian were going to be his bandmates. I knew Davy and Brian of course since we had gone to high school together. They moved to Columbus and started practicing. I went down to visit a few times, eventually I made the tape of "You Crummy Fags" with them. Brian left the band after a fight with John and I moved to Columbus and joined. We started auditioning drummers right away using the tape of "You Crummy Fags." We ended up with Danny Foland. John had met Jamie Lyons, formerly of the Music Explosion, who had a bad band called Hard Sauce. He told us we could play with them if we wanted. So we went to get our first (and only Columbus) gigs. The first one was scheduled for September 1973 at Positively 4th Street opening for Hard Sauce, and then another four weeks later at Mr. Brown's Descent with a bunch of no name cover bands. Right before we played, Positively 4th Street changed its name to the Moonshine Co-op, about as stupid a name as you can come by. Despite the lack of encouragement from the audience, we loved playing out as the Eels and after these two gigs we tried to get more but we were unsuccessful. With no more places to play and the mood getting worse in the band, around the end of '73 Danny quit and I stopped coming around. Brian then rejoined. They did the Eels thing for another six months or so in Columbus but didn't play out.
Then I moved back to Cleveland in the summer of '74 to play in Mirrors. John and Davy moved shortly thereafter. Brian stayed. In Cleveland we rehearsed as the Eels without Brian and without a drummer, and put together the Extermination Music Nights.
BTC-I remember you telling me long ago that the Velvet Underground were very popular in Cleveland, but that the Velvets-inspired groups that came in their wake weren't. There were Mirrors, the Eels, Laughner's groups and I'm sure more. What can you tell me about the Velvets sphere in Cleveland during those days?
PM-Just yesterday, in a different context, John Esplen, who owns Overground records, asked me a similar question. I mentioned that we had played with Tin Huey several times. He said "Ugh, they were a dreadful band."
Well, I don't know about dreadful, but one time Tin Huey, Rockets and Mirrors shared a bill at the VIking Saloon and all three bands played "Sweet Jane." So I suppose that's a good example of Velvets inspiration.
Funny thing about the Eels though. Despite listening to their records over and over again,we never tried to play any of their (the Velvet Underground's) songs. I don't recall other bands except those mentioned above doing Velvets-type stuff either.
BTC-I remember you telling me about that group Peter Laughner tried forming with you that was to have used influences as diverse as Mozart and the Velvets, but lasted only one rehearsal (you were using too much pedal on your electric piano I believe). What was that all about?
PM-You got the gist of it. At Morton's insistence, I went to some bar to meet Peter for the first time, must have been around 1974. John thought I should know him because of Peter's supposed wide-ranging musical knowledge. We chatted a bit and agreed that a band that could have the "musical sophistication of Mozart and the power of the Velvets" (his words) would be an awesome thing. Sounded good to me so I went to his home to jam. I brought my guitar. We played a bit but it seemed that he only wanted to play Lou Reed covers, "Wagon Wheel" over and over, and blues licks. He didn't play any of his original material and wasn't interested in any of mine. We only played for an hour or two and the day just devolved into his moronic philosophizing. This is when he told me he thought the piano was an OK instrument but only if you didn't use the pedal. Also he was real uncomfortable being a white kid. He kept talking about the blues and urban influences and how British music was all b.s., and how enlightened he was because he moved to a black neighborhood.
That was it, one wasted afternoon. I never played with Peter again in any context.
BTC-Seems to be a lot of animosity between you, Jamie and Jim Crook and the Plaza crowd.
PM-I used to go over to Scott Krauss' apartment at the Plaza to listen to music, so I can't say that it was the Plaza per se that bothered me. The historic Cleveland East/West animosity probably has more to do with any perceived animosity than a real problem with geography. Any real differences in personalities were just that, personality clashes.
BTC-Cindy Black was telling me about Scott's huge and esoteric record collection, and how people would go over to their apartment to hear him spin everything from classical to heavy metal to garage to the Dead!
PM-The time I describe was before he and Cindy were a thing, but yes, he did have an esoteric collection. I remember listening to a lot of Miles Davis' TRIBUTE TO JACK JOHNSON which in retrospect is very much what Ubu sounded like.
BTC-How'd you meet up with Krauss?
PM-We worked together at Northern Record Service, a rack jobber and one-stop. We were "billers," putting those little round stickers with the price code "C" and "D" on LPs that were to be sold in dime stores and discount stores like Grants and Gold Circle. The job required knowing the catalog prefixes or being able to find in catalogs the list price of LPs, 8-tracks and (a few) cassettes from all the different labels. Most LPs were $5.98 and $6.98 list price. The first live double for $7.98, FRAMPTON COMES ALIVE just came out, I think.
This was a promotion, actually, to filing away defective returned discs and paid $2.50 an hour. The minimum wage at that time was still either $1.65 or $1.90, I can't remember which.
Anyway, I got my first dose of how NOT to win friends among your fellow workers at this place. We worked a regular 45 hour week, which meant at least five hours of overtime. Like all working poor with a young family was, that sometimes was the difference between living and just surviving.
So one day the big boss, Lenny Silver, came down from Buffalo to announce to the entire workforce that there would be cutbacks. Not only no more overtime, but the work would be reduced to 36 hours.
So I piped up, in front of everyone, "Why don't you just lay off a couple of people and have the hours the same for the rest of us?" I was thinking about guys like Nick Knox and a half-dozen other burnout musicians who were a drain on the rest of us.
I knew I wouldn't get laid off, I worked hard. Well, as you can imagine, I instantly became a very unpopular guy. So much so, that a few days later I was transferred out of there over to the distributor branch of the same company called Action Music which had just opened. I became the shipping clerk. I got another raise and began a slow rise through the ranks.
BTC-You were playing with Mirrors before the Eels. Were you a bona-fide member at that point?
PM-I suppose I was. Although I began by playing bass as Craig's replacement, it was fairly apparent that I would stay on after he got out of the service and just move over to keyboards and stuff.
BTC-I just thought that maybe you were a "floater." How'd you get Mirrors booked, and where?
PM-It was pretty simple really. We'd been rehearsing and we were ready to play out. I went to the Clockwork Orange with Mike Weldon one day, and we got the gig. It didn't become a regular weekly thing until a few shows later, maybe after a month or two. The Viking Saloon was also an obvious one for me. I didn't do much more than make a few phone calls necessary to get and confirm dates for shows, and because in those days there weren't more than a few clubs to play, it was easy. Where I wouldn't succeed was in the social aspects that provide the necessary support network for bands., friends, informal gigs, parties etc. Its one of the common threads between Mirrors, Eels and the Styrenes...never part of the "scene." Weldon was by far the most social guy in Mirrors. He had been working in record stores (so had Jim Jones), which has a different vibe than working at wholesalers as did Jamie, Craig and I. I suppose he likes people. It was through Weldon's friendship with Crocus when they worked at the Drome that the Hearthan single came about.
BTC-Was Weldon way into films at the time?
PM-Yes, he was already spending inordinate amounts of time cutting out clippings of B-movies and stuff like that. This was pretty much a constant with him even during high school...we both were class of '70. Most of the clippings he's used for both of the books and the magazine are from his own collection. One time, in summer '74, he and I went to a drive-in (he never owned a car, but I did and yes, it was just the two of us) to see DEATH RACE 2000 with David Carradine.
It must have been around 1977 or '78 that he was responsible for bringing ERASERHEAD to Cleveland for its first showing.
BTC-Would you give me an idea of what the rest of the guys in Mirrors were like? Did you all get along?
PM-Friends? Well, Mike Weldon was always a very amilable guy and got along with just about everybody. Crook didn't much like me but since we'd known each other a number of years before I was in the band there were never any issues that surfaced. Jamie and I, even Craig got along OK. In fact, we must have gotten along since at various times most of us lived together.
BTC-Could you tell us about the jam sessions where Andrew Klimek sat in?
PM-Andrew was only twelve-thirteen years old at the time, and I don't think he was playing anything other than the radio.
BTC-Actually Charlotte Pressler wrote an article on Andrew in THE CLEVELAND EXPRESS saying he used to sit in with Mirrors and play stylophone and echoplex.
PM-I suppose it's a true statement, though I didn't think of it that way at the time. I've thought more about how old (young) we were then. In the summer of '73 I was twenty. Jamie has a younger brother, Terrence, who's my age and then there's Karen who is two years younger, so Andrew must have been 14 or 15, maybe even 16. And it could have only happened when Mirrors was practicing at Jamie's mother's house which stopped in early '74.
BTC-Were you making more of your solo tapes at this time?
PM-Yes, I was making solo tapes during my Mirrors and Eels days. After I got some multi-tracking capability, for some reason it wasn't quite as much fun anymore. Rehearsal of studio techniques was always valuable. Jamie did the same with tapes. On the upcoming ROIR comp, I'm going to include a version of "I Saw You" that is all Jamie, fuzztone vocals included, except for the drums.
BTC-Did you notice any sort of notoriety in Mirrors? It seems hard to imagine an original music band in Cleveland being acknowledged as even existing in the seventies.
PM-There were times when we thought that we were in fact gaining a little ground, but then reality would rear its ugly face and then we knew better. We were discouraged by spring/summer 1975, which partly led to Mirrors' demise. I think Craig knew better, which is why he went and joined Rockets.
BTC-The Polistyrene Jass Band, had that been formulated at this time?
PM-We'd been rehearsing, as Polistyrene Jass Band beginning in January 1975, right after the second extermination night. The first few months were Jamie, Jones, a drummer named Jeff Lewis and me. He (Lewis) was basically a skilled amateur and it was pretty obvious he wasn't into doing a band thing for real. Anton Fier joined in August after we had done a Men from UNCLE thing in our basement, and was ready to play out with us for the WRUW show in September '75 and record "Drano" right after.
BTC-Was their any friction with the other members of Mirrors over the Polistyrene Jass Band?
PM-I don't think so. When PSJB first started, Jamie and Jones were in the band so they wouldn't object and besides, we were so very different from anything Mirrors was doing that Jim Crook and Mike Weldon didn't care.
BTC-When did "Drano In Your Veins"/"Circus HIghlights" get released?
PM-Around the end of November, 1975.
BTC-That's interesting, a new band releasing a single so early in their career. How did it sell? Did it get distribution? I saw one then-current review of it, in a mid-'76 issue of BACK DOOR MAN.
PM-It was pretty funny. I worked for a regional distributor at the time, Action Music (they're still in business). I was all excited when we got them back from the pressing plant. When I played it for the owner and the buyer, they were openly hostile to it. They said things like, it's unprofessional, there's feedback on it, it's too short, blah blah blah. So I sent the record to some other one-stops and to radio stations and stuff. It sold out in about six months. It was a lot easier back then to sell a DIY record. There weren't many others at the time, so the experts and one-stops would take all they could.
BTC-Was the Polistyrene Jass Band playing many gigs before the Pirate's Cove began booking underground rock?
PM-We had played a few, I can't say "many." Then by the summer of 1976 we had started playing at the Looking Glass on the east side. Right after that is when the Pirate's Cove gigs started turning up. There was also the Coach House on the east side over by Case Western Reserve University. It was right around the early part of '77 that Tony FIer insisted we weren't good enough to be playing out (he was probably right) and he refused to play a show I had booked for us at the Cove. So I got rid of him. Danny Foland replaced him.
BTC-Your comments and Jamie's about Fier seem to hint that there's bad blood between the two camps, so to speak.
PM-There's no blood between the camps. It's as if he was never in the band.
BTC-I remember Jane Scott doing an article on "The George Money Band" in THE PLAIN DEALER. How'd that come about?
PM-I had just caller her to tell her about our goings on. We were mixing the second single at Cleveland Recording (which eventually became Suma Recording after moving to Painesville). She sent a PLAIN DEALER photographer to the studio to take our pictures. Jane was always easy to get along with, as long as you would tell her where you went to high school and stuff like that. She would call you every once in awhile to see what's up.
BTC-Anastasia Pantsios and Bruno Bornino were the exact opposite, weren't they?
PM-The name Bruno Bornino escapes me.
BTC-He was the music editor at THE CLEVELAND PRESS. Anyway, folks like Pantsios seemed extremely hostile to bands like yours.
And this, dear reader, is where the interview ends.
Sunday, July 10, 2005