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Downtown Boys: I recorded this song in 1977

Seems I foresaw "cultural appropriation." Also, why I haven't written anything for a while.

UPDATE: Several people have asked if I’m singing lead. For some reason I assumed that was a given. Yes, I am.

If anything positive came from being bedridden for over a month, which I was, it’s this: it gave me time to learn (in a rudimentary way) how to link images and sound. It also gave me time to collect and save images to illustrate this song demo, which I wrote, arranged, and recorded in 1977.

The song, “Downtown Boys,” got a good reception around the NYC music scene back then. It also found its way onto Italian underground radio, where (according to a postcard I received back then) it was a hit in Rome.

I played rhythm guitar, Dan Couse played bass and piano, and Joe Quesada engineered and played drums. I wanted two female backup singers and Joe found them; unfortunately, I don’t have their names. John Scherman, who became well-respected on the NY alternative scene, played lead guitar.

Hope you enjoy the demo. What struck me in hearing it again was the theme, which covers what we now call “cultural appropriation” — in this case, how white people appropriated and exploited Black Harlem culture. My father and uncle grew up in New York City and were among the many white kids, especially children of immigrants, who hung out there. The Harlem of the 1970s was far less hospitable to that sort of cultural tourism, although a vigorous cross-cultural music scene had thrived for fifty years in New York. Hence the song …

(That’s me in the thumbnail image above, performing live with my friend Cassie Callan back in the day. She was in the band, although she doesn’t appear on this recording. I think I was going for a Kid Creole & the Coconuts kind of look — speaking of cultural appropriation.)

I collected a lot of pictures of the Harlem Renaissance and its jazz greats for this video, along with a few images of white jazz players (also great), some culture tourists and a few random zoot suiters. I’ve also thrown in a few shots of my dad, mom, and uncle.

As for why I was bedridden … well, the bad thing finally happened. I caught Covid, which doctors had been warning me about for a long time due to chronic disease. Then I got rebound Covid, and then a severe infection which was almost certainly pneumonia. I can’t be sure, because no radiology office would see me while I was testing positive. The only way to get a chest X-ray would have been by going to the emergency room, which was a nonstarter because a) I was far too weak, and b) in my weakened state, I thought the ER would be a Petri dish for other infections. The first antibiotic didn’t work, but the second one did.

I missed a couple weeks of recording The Zero Hour. Then came a couple weeks of crawling out of bed to do the show, after which I would sleep for a day or two.

I had a lot of things I wanted to write about while I was sick, so I have a major backlog of story ideas. I’m still easily fatigued and have to rest a lot, but with any luck* I’ll be writing a lot more in the days and weeks to come.

*Luck, that is, if you enjoy reading what I write. I make no assumptions in that regard.

The Zero Hour Report: A Newsletter from Richard (RJ) Eskow
The Zero Hour Report: A Newsletter from Richard (RJ) Eskow