I can't believe FM Cornog; he looks slender, hellenic, and shabby, like me. He TRUSTS music that HITS you in the HEART. While he was homeless, somewhere else his music got played to this girl, who helped up this song bum from a cold grave, and gave his life structure.
Now he follows these other shades-wearing songwriters described as authentic and pure, and the girl is looking in the same direction as him as he composes stately odes to losers at their home. I think he's always considered these odes as the teary outflow of fermented kittens from a tweepop band onto their shrinks, so his work got issued under the nom de plume 'East River Pipe'.
Fred M Cornog was born in Suffolk, VA in 66 but grew up in the lap of suburbia, Summit, NJ, a sleepy enclave of parents sheltering their kids from hints of urban reality. Mom sang in the church choir and instilled methodism, which is why he no longer attends. His Daddy was the varsity baseball coach in the early 60s and often hurt the young boy, who represented the Condors in Little League. You look at the young teen swiping the home run and wonder how he was determined to become a song bum. And so he got the fuel for an expression of the leafy community's underbelly, waiting for Jesus to forgive.
In the mid 70s he sat by the radio and constantly tuned in to WABC, through the corny, through the top 40 hits, through the cheesy soul r'n'b beaming from Liberty Island. The soundtrack of his life was thus the huge cumulative effect of Paul McCartney and Wings, Fleetwood Mac, Al Green, The Staple Singers, The Eagles, Ohio Players, Earth, Wind and Fire, The Edgar Winter Group, Harry Nilsson, Bread, The Stylistics, The Chi-Lites, Gilbert O'Sullivan, Three Dog Night, The Carpenters, The O'Jays, Grand Funk, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Barry White, Barry Manilow, School’s Out, and Hall and Oates. He was a blank canvas and these sounds infiltrated the pores. So after he had a go at the trumpet, he used song and chordbooks to play on his favourite outlet, the damaged old upright piano in his dining room, with just a few lessons. He donned his brother's 'phones and absorbed LPs by the Beatles, solo Lennon, early Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Lou Reed, David Bowie, Springsteen, Philip Glass, Robert Fripp's 'Frippertronics', Kraftwerk, Joy Division, Laurie Anderson, Todd Rundgren, Bob Marley, and early REM. There was an osmosis in the musical artifacts he loved; he got turned on by the disfiguring punches they delivered by cover art, lyrics, and credits.
When he refined his own artifacts, he could recreate in style those who impressed on him going nowhere just as fast. Mel was a proto-dealer in Central Park he approached skipping high school who slugged him the conspiratorial fastball: "I got the Panama Red... Panama Red" and'd sell him the blow then sit and smoke with him at the Bethesda Fountain, spouting musical opinions or other jibber-jabber. Since fifteen, Cornog let his hair grow longer and hung out talking about about the shining hours in songwriting and making records, and the shining hours in a can. He refined songs that cut into the big tough hearts of his softrock-loving contemporaries, songs created by bouncing his lines and progressions between a pair of punky Panasonic cassette players, and adding an instrument each time. I imagine his close circle loitering in checked shirts and leather at the swings in dusk 84, a beautiful group of pariahs. Explaining he bought a newly released 'Tascam Porta One' today, filling its four tracks without even reading the manual.
Cornog's only band was in high school, in the Tom Manley Band, which was fronted by a pretty Stradlater figure, a Superstar in France, who had all pretty girls, and veins on his arms sticking out like rock family trees. Cornog played keyboards but got ejected because fashion dictated a quick, Rick Wakeman style, whilst Cornog had adopted the pounding style of Neil Young because that was easier and anyway he didn't have the pretense. I doubt whether East River Pipe is about being a pretentious fuck. Anyway he belatedly started mammaging a guitar, at about twenty, to emulate Tom Verlaine from Television, and it was a replica of Verlaine's Fender Jazzmaster that he pored over, purchased, and eventually lost on a subway train. His friends were into the bluesy lead licks of Clapton, a style that explains everything, but Verlaine had eschewed the blues and mammaged something more ambiguous, droney and serpentine, losing any white boy blues hang-ups for Cornog, who loved Verlaine.
He packed his gear and flew for some hot Fog City nights, did the devil's work in a carpet warehouse, a greenhouse, and returning to NJ, a lightbulb factory, until he broke down and couldn't continue. He got into bad beer, SRO hotels, then was homeless, and he stumbled later into the Hoboken train station. For two years, Maslow was but a stern, obfuscated face, taunting him with the bubbles of security, nourishment and lays needed before music could again be achieved. Cornog became convinced his life was wrong, unable to create and produce in the phoney rock and roll romance of drug-addled artistry. Without friends or liquor money, he wasted alone wrapped in sheets on a platform, late winter. The survivalist hope of Bob Dylan was but a stern, obfuscated face, asking to write a requiem about his learning process. NY, capital of homeless people... the mimes are food for the bums underground man. You mimic the best parts of what you grab, and if you're a song bum you produce songs that're predictable and all in your signature, and it's gorgeous man. Somewhere, one of Cornog's tapes is floating around and CANNOT BE STOPPED.
"Can you sum it up in a lyric?" "No." "A noise?" "Ruuuaaarghh."
He left the streets when he met Barbara Powers in 88. Expressway To Yr Skull was about to change his life. Powers had fallen for the innocent, wheedling voice fighting from a tape from his teens, which she heard through a mutual friend whom Cornog had known since high school (and later did some drumming for Cornog in 95). They found Cornog at the station and Powers would not let him wheeze a dying breath in the dark, but she took him into safety and let him shower and sleep on her couch. They got to know each other and Powers became his girlfriend and manager, his 'organizer of chaos', putting out the tape and singles on their label Hell Gate. Then, in 89 he fell for an analogue machine called 'Tascam 388'.
The cassettes of that year, New York of Slime and 90's Point of Memory and 91's I Used to Be Kid Colgate came before he and Powers raised enough capital to press 500 copies of the Axl or Iggy? / Helmet On single on the Ajax label. She released two East River Pipe seven inches, and they begged the man in Hoboken's Bar/None record shop to take five copies, but he suggested forwarding Cornog's address to England's Sarah Records. A cherry-scented letter arrived from the pens of Sarah's Matt and Claire, astonishing them with its fragrance and we'd like to release your shit in the UK. Field goal! East River Pipe became the only American act on Sarah.
His songs portrayed the people in Astoria, Queens, NYC's most ethnically diverse borough, and it's like he's at one with the streets, keeping it compact, but slowing down the motions of self-destruction he relates to until musically it is delayed, filling the rough atmosphere with reverb and beautiful-scary noises. Dogman was written about a mentally ill woman in the neighborhood, who lived with her ten dogs in a tiny apartment. He was also sparked by the prostitutes hanging out in front of the Turf Motel, or by the young hustlers playing cards at the corner bodega, or by the macho motorhead guys and their girlfriends up at Astoria Park, who cruise up and down Shore Boulevard in their cars on the weekends during the summer. His haunt became Irish bar 'The Spinning Wheel', and he could jibber-jabber there with the local characters and purposeful drunks, or invite the Reaperman who pushed him there in a wheelchair to order the black stuff. And then it was like, on to the Cronin and Phelan Bar at the corner of Broadway and Steinway, where you can Make it Real.
These days I'm only happy when I cannot move.
They were in a little apartment about a block away from the East River, and at an age ripe for epiphanies Cornog witnessed there raw sewage flowing into the water, whereupon he identified the world with the river, him as the pipe, and his songs as liquid shit. This was his intuition, and although all the scenes around were warming to ironic T-shirts, Beck and Stereolab, where art and avarice share a telephone line, Cornog was anti-irony. What are bums? They're angry, an undercurrent of envy there, what words they manage founded on crazy weltschmerz platitudes; but a song bum is different. Cornog revels in the dirt edge, an expositor half-blinded by the Colgate Clock, who embraces standard formal structures. Cornog's style is pared-down and lo-fi like his man, the folk artist RA Miller, whose tools are simple and tractor paint crude. Don't assume, but you just pick something and you go with it, kind of thing. And when you get to the movie trailer for a white trash heaven as described in the righteous East River Pipe song Astrofarm, you make up with everyone you trashed in your life, or else you can't proceed to the next level.
Make A Deal With The City
In NYC, he subdued most offers for him to deign to grace the stage for an impromptu set. In a city so macho, it proved a bitch seeking a wimpy bassist and pussywillow guitarist who could also stand to stroke out the repetitious riffs for his 'little East River Pipe songs', without the urge for superimposing the blues. Cornog never did jam much with people, but he is still the anti-blues. So a tour unit eluded him, and with no-one around to play his shit properly, he spurned the live ordeal. Something that didn't take off: an appearance with Cornog's dream backup band Lambchop, who have covered several tracks of his from tape gifts. But his records kept the fans sweet.
East River Pipe were usually broke but they earned some expenses from the demise of EMI America, then re-signed to Merge. However, Cornog couldn't endure much more after twelve years in Queens, and returned in 99 to his hometown of Summit with Powers, thinking: it's not so bad through the glass on this train to my folks. Barnes and Noble's not so far away. They vowed that if his career kind of gets exhausted and the chiming songs become unmarketable, they would open 'Big Ed’s Moon Ride' after buying a swinging half-moon with five people on each side, hauled around on a truck's ass between state fairs. They are friends to all circus freaks. On the boardwalk at Asbury Park, NJ, they had met Fricky the Pony, trailer-trussed and dyed bright pink by its owner. "Some people are just fuckin' worthless and cruel. Fricky was 50 cents a ride. I related to his cheap vaudevillian life. I'm 50 cents a ride too."
They got their recording room, and a rescued deaf dalmation called Holly. Now they could purchase an automobile, and Cornog took the opportunity to drive at night down Route 22 and back streets, attempting to justify the despair of those who could have spared him a dime on the street. Red rear lights and Very in the tape player.
In their small house he invited friends for some bonding over such hits as the Bee Gees' Run to Me, with he and Powers singing harmonies, because he loves performing covers on his piano, without recording them.