Thursday, August 1, 2013

Old Dreams Born Anew

Life truly is (or can be) an amazing adventure.  If there is one thing I have learned in my now 66+ years it is that we do not know what wonderful things tomorrow may bring our way. It is almost as if the universe has a sense of fun. A sense of humor even! That it takes joy in our joy.

Sometimes this is easy to forget.

All of life is not a joy. Every last one of us, before our ride is over, will have experienced disappointment.  If we have dreams we will see some of those dreams go unfulfilled.  And indeed no true story, if you read beyond the back cover, ends in anything but, well, empty pages.

Still, life does have joys. So many of them! And surprises too. This is a lesson I have learned time and time again.  And one I learned, once again, today.

Most of us, when young, have dreams. Pictures in our mind's eyes of what course we hope our lives to take.

The fulfillment of those dreams -- to the extent that they will be fulfilled -- depends more on us - on our efforts and determination - than on any other single factor.

But that said (and said and said and said again!) sometimes things simply do not unfold as we expect. Sometimes the way they unfold is even better!

As a teenager I was a dreamer. Not just in the sense of having hopes, but in my very nature.  All art is at least one part dream, and I was/am, if anything, by nature, an artist.

Most of my life's work has had to do with the visual arts. Other parts the word smith's art. And another part -- an important one at that -- has involved music. Indeed my first big dream -- my first vision of myself as other than a shy somewhat withdrawn boy -- was tied to music.

My best friend from about age 11 was a fellow named Al Karp.  (Al is still, all these years later, a very dear friend.) It was Al who opened my eyes to the possibilities of music.  I think at that point we were perhaps13 or 14.  Whatever our age, once we discovered the magic of music making, our entire youthful focus changed.

At about age 15 we started performing together -- just the two of us -- as the Bi-Tones. We played our guitars and sang. At parties. At school dances.  Within a year or so of starting that endeavor we linked up with a drummer and an accordionist and formed our first real band - the Twi-Lites.  Other ensembles followed until we found just the right group of guys and then The Abstracts were born and with the forming of that band came dreams. Wonderful dreams.

At age 17, just out of High School, Al, I, and the other members of the Abstracts got a dream summer job of being the teen band at a Catskill Mountain ("Borscht Belt") resort hotel.  There we put on shows for the guests at the pool every afternoon and played at the teen dance club

every evening. In between we flirted with the female guests (innocently) and basically played about in the sun.

Just weeks before we left for that idyllic summer the five of us who made up the Abstracts went into a Long Island recording studio and laid down two tracks: One an original rocker entitled "Always Always," the other a quieter rock ballad entitled "Gone Away." Those tracks, cut into a  two-sided 45prm "lacquer," played all day long in the hotel's teen lounge jukebox.  To the young guests we - The Abstracts - were "stars."  Fans clubs formed and those fans followed us, summer's end, when we went back to our L.I. communities.

In November of that year -- 1964 -- The Abstracts put on the first in a series of very original two hour stage concerts.  Not too long after that we were invited to Columbia's famed Studio B to record  five songs. The "Dream," it seemed, was about to unfold.

'Twas not to be.  Columbia decided to pass on producing the Abstracts. In time the band agreed to record for another, much less prestigious, label, and our one record, entitled "Baton Girl," was released to at best very moderate success. On that record's "b side" there was a newer recording of "Always Always."  But as with most "b sides" it likely was rarely played.

After two and a half years the dream appeared over.  The final curtain appeared to come down on the last performance of The Abstracts in Concert.  The band members -- including me -- moved on in life - on to other dreams.

All of this, by rights, should be nothing more than a mostly happy memory.  But life doesn't always unfold the way one expects. Sometimes, as written above, the universe likes to surprise us.  And regarding  my almost forgotten dreams with The Abstracts it certainly did just that.

In 2010 I reconnected once again with The Abstracts drummer, Mike Machat.  Doing that was am especially great joy because I came to hear from him first hand how some of his own dreams had been fulfilled. (see Mike Machat - Journey to Dryden)

To celebrate what to me was a thrilling reunion of sorts I decided to create a video of The Abstracts, and chose to use, not our released "a side" recording but the song we were most famous for among our teen fans way back when -- "Always Always" -- and to post this video on YouTube and to a number of internet forums.

The reaction to the Always Always video was astounding. "What a great song!" some posted. "What a great band" said others. "That should be on Nuggets or Pebbles" wrote others still.

Nuggets? Pebbles? Of what were they speaking?

A quick Google search provided the answer to that question. "Nuggets" and "Pebbles" were a highly regarded series of albums (both vinyl LPs and CDs) of what had come to be considered the very best music by lesser known 1960s bands.

I started looking around to learn what I could about these albums and their supposedly great music and... lo and behold! ... there, on the Essential Pebbles Volume II, what do I find but "Always Always - The Abstracts"

At the same time my forum and YouTube channel correspondence was continuing, and on one such forum someone had posted regarding The Abstracts' recording "Have you ever seen this record?"  And when I quite innocently responded "Yes, I own it. I was The Abstracts lead guitarist" my world quickly flip flopped. The Universe, it seems, sometimes does like to laugh aloud.  The very next day respected pop music historian and writer Mike Dugo asked me to provide "an exclusive interview" about my time with The Abstracts. Where, oh smiling universe, were you taking me? Where oh where would this end?

Less than a week later I began to learn where when I found myself exchanging emails arranging for the release -- some 45 years after the dream had seemed to die -- of  an album of The Abstracts complete 1960s recordings - including, especially, the long thought "lost" Columbia Session.

Discussions and then negotiations led me (with the other band members consent) to a contract for an upscale, collection-worthy, LP release by Germany's Break-A-Way Records, and then, in November of 2011, the release itself of The Abstracts "Hey, Let's Go Now!" That title being taken from the opening cadence shout of what, without The Abstracts knowledge, had gone on to be considered a world-wide appreciated 'garage band classic' - "Always Always."

Taking delivery of the first-in-America copy
of The Abstracts "Hey, Let's Go Now!" was one of the most exciting moments of my life.  Not just for what it itself was, but for what it represented in terms of LIFE and the having of DREAMS.

Many exciting moments followed. Learning that several cuts from the album had been chosen for airplay on the MIT, Cambridge Massachusetts, radio station -- and then enjoying correspondence (some read on the air) with one of that station's DJs.  Having the band's, and my own, story told in a multi-page article in the Arts Section of a major New Hampshire newspaper. Reading excellent reviews of the album in both American and European magazines and journals. All this was, shall I say, a thrill.

As was learning, just yesterday, that the much requested CD version of the album was now scheduled for a September release. And then again this morning when I received via email files for my approval of all the artwork for that CD.

Yes, life is full of surprises. And we must remain open to them. How often have I seen this!  And while it is true that some dreams do simply die, other dreams -- even old dreams -- can be born anew.


  1. Don, I followed your link from Belmont Club and then linked to this post. What a delightful story! I shall return!

  2. Yes Joan. Kind of nice to be able to think about our simple joys in these oh, so stressful times!

    I was just enjoying a 'back and forth' with a friend on a musicians' forum sharing a similar thought.

    Here's to the private life! What freedom should really be about. One's interests, one's friends and families. The arts. Ideas. Etc.



Want to share a thought about today's blog post? I'd love to hear from you!

(Please allow time for moderation before your comment is posted)