Update: So, a guitar player sits down and writes the story of his failed career as a musician and songwriter a few decades back, meaning he was never signed to a major label... and... he gets signed by a major label!
Rhino Records launched their brand spanking new eBook venture, Rhino's Single Notes, a few weeks back. One of the first five books they debuted is a story they commissioned me to write about the New York Rock Scene in the 1970s when I was in a band called The Planets. It's title... "My Life in the Ghost of Planets -- The Story of a CBGB Almost-Was".
Some of this book actually started on the Entertainment page of Huffington Post.
Most of my tales involve me interacting with celebrities in unexpected and memorable ways (he typed modestly). Sprinkled throughout these HuffPost blogs were little exposition-y asides and plot set-ups that related to my own band, The Planets.
I was bemused and sorta confounded when the managing editor of Rhino's Single Notes, Dan Epstein, first approached me with the idea of writing an entire book about a virtually unknown band whose brief semi-heyday was decades ago.
Given the So-Close-I-Can-Almost-Taste-It quality of most of my career, it was thoroughly cathartic to dive into the mess that was our brief sad unfulfilled career as a band. Reliving some of it made my stomach turn. Other times, an old pal would say "Hey, how about that time when..." and I'd be laughing my ass off.
This is the first time I ever took my writing seriously. And it is because of Huffington Post and its seeking-out readers (like you!) that I got this chance. So far, so good...
ATTENTION Kindle owners: There was a glitch with downloading me at Amazon for awhile. Folks (as politicians call y'all these days) with older Kindles couldn't download my Tale of Misspent Yoot.
THIS HAS BEEN FIXED!
Here's the link.
I can assure you, that whole deal was very upsetting to me and the fine folks at Rhino Records. The last thing anyone on our end wanted to do was put restricts on even one potential reader... especially in a way that made all us look like shills for Kindle Fires.
Among those who've already read it, a few have had some very nice things to say...
Binky writes with the same infectious enthusiasm that drew me to him at The High School of Music and Art. We were the outcasts among outcasts. Ultimate fans in search of the ultimate dream; to be one with our heroes and share the glory, girls, and all the accoutrement that was to be reveled in as members of the Rock and Roll hierarchy. The Planets played with a reckless joy that was the heart, soul, and spirit of their founder and creative light, Binky. Almost too much of those qualities to ever stand the chance to survive and thrive. I'm thrilled that, in spite of what may never have quite happened for him, Binky remains a Fanboy at heart and still lights up at every memory tucked away in that file cabinet he calls his head. - Paul Stanley, KISS singer/songwriter/guitarist
Binky Philips and The Planets were one of the star bands of the original CBGB scene. They were already around when early 70's rock transitioned from Glam Rock into the Punk movement. There was a lot more variety at CBGB than people might now be aware of. The Planets were a great example of the virtuoso-led school of music, just one of the ingredients that made a night out at CBGB an eclectic event. Binky's story gives you a good view of what it was like to be in a band that was part of the inner-workings of the CBGB era. - Tommy Ramone Erdelyi, Ramones drummer/producer
The world-famous and revered music brand, Rhino, is launching an eBook division called Single Notes and I am one of the first authors (oooh, how posh, now he's an author!) they've signed. My book's title is My Life In The Ghost Of Planets - The Story Of A CBGB Almost-Was.
Yes, I was commissioned to write about my days and nights in a band you've never heard of, but, that was on the CBGB/Max's Kansas City circuit in New York City back in the 1970s. When I was first approached about this, I was like, uh, are you sure?
"Yes, yes, yes!," insisted Rhino, "Give us the inside scoop on that whole era, Binky."
And so, I have.
So how did this happen? How does a knucklehead guitar player and low-life music industry drone get a book deal?
Here's what happened...
I've spent the last 21 years as an independent record promoter for major labels, working their "rock priorities" to commercial rock stations of every variety.
This has been a fairly incredible consolation prize for a wannabe rock-star guitar player.
So, what exactly is an independent record promoter?
Well, ideally, in a vacuum, a guy in my position uses his knowledge about music, mass culture, various markets, current and upcoming trends, etc. to help guide an overworked radio programmer towards the right music to play for his audience, the hits before they're hits. This has been my primary calling card, my knowledge and my honesty.
Now, back in the bad old days, I was the guy cutting sorta-payola deals. Luckily, I never had to deal with the Really Bad Old Days (Wiki, Joe Isgro), but I was getting radio stations all kinds of swag, trips, signed guitars, t-shirts, TVs, et al, for on-air giveaways. I never had to deal with cocaine or envelopes of cash, but I did have to come up with hotel rooms and sports memorabilia and concert tickets and almost anything non-illicit for programmers' own use every now and then. But that was the exception, not the rule by the 1990's.
Being able to toss around that kind of candy won me a lot of pals, pals who used me and exclusively for this purpose. That gave me a lotta yank. I got things done for both sides of the coin. Radio guys loved having the trips to see U2 in Las Vegas on the air. Labels loved the airplay.
All that changed in 2003.
One, the entire industry collapsed under the weight of its own greed, stupidity, and fear of the future.
Two, the deregulation of the radio industry meant programming to the lowest common denominator, hence, radio cut back drastically on playing the most dangerous thing to ratings... new music.
Three, a guy named Spitzer decided that what record companies and radio stations were doing in the schmooze department was tantamount to heroin distribution by the Gottis. And, this Spitzer was running for Governor of the State that was home to the epicenter of the music biz, the music biz being the biggest, softest punching bag any politician can ever practice with. The guy didn't mess around and had several music biz types help him with their loose lips and their actual pride in being sleaze-balls.
Within 90 days, I was, for all intents and purposes, unemployed.
I had sort of seen this coming and had branched out into artist managing and artist development as a way to stay in the game while reinventing myself. I'd found an amazingly good and original band in Dallas with the hideous name, Deaf Pedestrians. Don't hold that against 'em. They are a wonderful band! (You can check them out @ DeafPedsMusic.com.)
So, now I had a new way to lose money. That only meant I needed to somehow stay in the indie game, too, for groceries.
I started writing little quick three and four paragraph stories and including them in my email blasts to radio programmers in the hope that once they skimmed my witty little tales about my misspent rock'n'roll days, they'd read my blurbs about the songs I was working for my (shrinking roster of) record label clients.
One day, a programmer named John Allers (now running WRFF in Philadelphia) wrote me a snotty compliment... "Why are you wasting your talents writing about shitty bands and sending the stuff to assholes like me? Leave me alone! Write a book, dammit!"
Huh! But I'm not a writer, I'm a guitar player! Or so I thought.
One never knows which door will open...
Two years ago, my dear pal, Michael Simmons, a tremendous writer himself, sent a story I'd written to honcho Stuart Whatley at this here Huffington Post. Within an hour or two, the story was up on the Entertainment Page and I've been here ever since...
Anyway... Hey, wanna little sample from the book? Here ya go...
The actual zygote moment of The Planets' inception took place, beyond appropriately enough, at The Who's first full length concert in New York City on July 8,1967. The dilapidated Village Theater on 2nd Ave and 6th St was less than a year away from becoming the Fillmore East. Anthony and I had tickets in the center of the 15th row and...
We'd politely sat through Richie Havens, but, the next act up was simply dreadful. They were a dishwatery folk-rock band called Chrysalis, with a wispy blond "chick" singer who, although pretty, stood stock still, and had a listless little voice to match. Anthony and I, two brats from Brooklyn, started heckling, "We Want The Who!" When Anthony yelled out "Get off the stage, you statue!", the older guy sitting next to me burst out laughing and said, "Oh man, I love you guys! I'm John."
Super handsome, a bit like Sam Andrew in Big Brother, with the longest hair I'd ever seen on a guy, John was 19. We were 14. We three were all full-blown Who loons. A friendship spontaneously combusted in the 15th row.
It's hard to fathom these days, but, lifelong friendships could be based on the mutual love for that band. I have never been able to fully analyze it, but, there was, among The Who's early fans (pre-Tommy, '65-'68), a sense that you were in on some cosmic secret. John Taylor, Anthony Jones, and I were in on that secret -- deeply, religiously so.
Within weeks after that Who show, John had become my mentor/older brother. He indoctrinated me on all kinds of music, movies, books, paintings... Eddie Cochran, Buñuel, Django Reinhardt, Magritte, Elmore James, Gaudi, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Fellini, Huysmans, Yves Tanguy, "Felix Krull"... I became a fantastically hip 14 year-old in one go.
I practically moved in that summer. His apartment was the typical New York tenement cluster of small square rooms, way up in the neighborhood George Carlin famously called White Harlem: Morningside Heights, just below W.125th St. Almost an hour to and from my home in Brooklyn, I took to sleeping over in the living room often.
At least a dozen other friends used John's place as a storage unit, a mailing address, a hang-out, a hide-out. I met life-long friends there. At one point, a pot-dealer pal left something like 30 pounds of reefer in John's bedroom closet for weeks! We smoked copious amounts. Sometimes there'd be guitar there. I would play it and impress whoever was hanging out.
Not only did John and I continuously wax ecstatic about The Who (and there were songs we'd play a dozen of times in one sitting, analyzing the geniuses' work), we made it our mission to ferret out every British band we could find that might approximate the buzz we got from The Who: The Move, Small Faces, Creation, Pretty Things, Them, Easybeats, John's Children, Elmer Gantry's Velvet Opera, Tomorrow, Caravan, Bonzo Dog Band, Idle Race, Pink Floyd, et al, aurally poring over their "texts" like monks.
One day, John announced that the band he'd once been called Sleep was reuniting. He was the leader and lead singer and wanted me to try out. This was big! I was thrilled and queasy with excitement. Sleep turned out to be a variation of The Stones meets Cream. I was now 15. Everyone else in Sleep was in their early 20s, a world apart. The fact is, John put me in as second guitar without so much as a quick "So?" to the other Sleep guys.
Initially, I was clearly considered an underage interloper of questionable skill. Which made sense, because, like my hero, Townshend, I brazenly used stage antics to cover up my musical deficiencies. But, while I was still a bit of a musical ignoramus, I'd turned into a pretty hellacious rhythm guitarist, and they were duly impressed with my right wrist.
Ironically, it was with Sleep, a band destined to last mere months, that I played to my largest crowd ever.
We had been rehearsing in the Upper West Side Democratic Party office on W. 96th St during off-hours. An organizer at this office, having never heard the band, roped Sleep into being the crowd-attracter for an impending rally protesting the war in Vietnam. By the time the flatbed truck carrying us, our gear, and the rally's PA system, pulled up to the site -- 86th St and Broadway --on the night of the rally, there were already over 5,000 people stuffed into this intersection, with more arriving by the hundreds. The head organizer, feeling stuck with the now totally unnecessary us, decided we could play a song. Just one song! Okay.
We did "I Gotta Move" by The Kinks. It's essentially a one riff blues-metal jam with lyrics that boldly declared that if the singer's "baby wasn't there" when he got home, he was "gonna brush [his] boots and comb [his] hair". The other guitarist's amp crapped out at the very start of the song, so mine was the only guitar and I cranked it to compensate. I took a solo that was barely music, total Townshend/Hendrix noise. The organizers were incensed!
"Dammit! What the hell's wrong with you guys?! You were supposed to play an anti-war song like 'I Ain't Marchin' Anymore'... Jesus Christ!"
We were told to get our gear off the damn truck and leave... Now!
Okay okay okay.
After many a marketing meeting, it was decided that Rhino would give my story away for the first two weeks of Single Notes' life. For more information, go here; or to download the book, follow these links: iTunes, Amazon.