April 2012 Archives
A Tour with Photographs by the Docent, Mr. Kamp’s Younger Brother, David
In 1981, Ted Kamp left central New Jersey for the wider world, unaware at the time that he was a curator. He was simply a young man beginning the journey into adulthood, which would take him first to the campus of Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY—its non-coeducational past still sufficiently recent for his father’s more paleolithic friends to remark with lewd grins, “Isn’t that a girlie school?”—and then to Chicago, and then to the greater Los Angeles area, where he resides today.
What Ted Kamp did not yet know was that his mother was possessed of a sufficiently strong sentimental streak that she would leave his oblong attic bedroom more or less unchanged in terms of décor as the years, and then the decades, flew by. Some furniture would be shuffled and rearranged, some closet contents would be hauled off, but the walls—ah, those goldenrod walls would remain exactly as they were left in 1981, which is to say, as they had remained for the better part of the 1970s, since Ted Kamp seldom edited, “redid,” or subtracted from his wall décor; rather, ke kept making incremental additions to his thumbtacked collage of American sports and cultural ephemera. By dint of this cumulative approach to decorating, and his mother’s subsequent willful resistance to making over his room, even after he no longer occupied it, Ted Kamp created an Inadvertent Museum of the Seventies. Come have a look.
The oldest piece in the collection is most likely the NEW YORK KNICKS WORLD CHAMPIONS poster (Fig. 1). It gives every indication of dating from 1970, the first of the Knicks’ two championship years in the seventies, featuring as it does not only the stalwarts Willis Reed (No. 19), Walt Frazier (No. 10), Bill Bradley (No. 24), Dave DeBusschere (No. 22), and Dick Barnett (No. 12), but also Cazzie Russell (No. 33), who was swapped for Jerry Lucas of the San Francisco Warriors at the end of the ’70-’71 season, and Mike Riordan (No. 6) and Dave Stallworth (No. 9), who, together, were sent later that same year to the Baltimore Bullets in return for the great (and conspicuously absent from this poster) Earl Monroe, a cornerstone of the Knicks’ 1973 championship team.
Your docent’s efforts to date this poster were initially thrown off by the presence of Phil Jackson (No. 18, the “1” on his uniform obscured in the photo). Jackson, though a Knick since being drafted out of the University of North Dakota in 1967, missed the entire 1969-70 season as he recuperated from spinal-fusion surgery. Yet he is shown in game action, reaching for a rebound. This is what crossed up your docent, who vividly remembers Jackson playing a crucial if graceless and hirsute reserve role on the ’73 championship squad.*
The suspicions of ’73 provenance were compounded by the fact that Ted Kamp did not ascend to his attic lair until some point in the mid-seventies. It is the hoariest of exercises to trot out a Brady Bunch reference when discussing things seventies-related, but it is nevertheless apt to note that it was on March 23, 1973—mere weeks before the Knicks clinched their second title—that ABC aired “A Room at the Top,” the Brady Bunch episode in which Greg Brady claimed the attic as his own baroquely decorated, single-occupancy bedroom. Precisely when Ted Kamp moved to his new custom-modified attic bedroom is lost to the ages, but it was certainly some time after “A Room at the Top” had aired, and it is not a stretch to imagine that Ted Kamp and his parents were at least partly inspired by the episode to imagine that their modest three-bedroom home’s large attic, if tidied up and retrofitted with electric baseboard heaters and nautically-themed curtains, would be a better place for Ted Kamp to spend his time than the small second-floor room he had shared with his older sister, by then pubescent and very irritable, since 1966.
One can only conclude that the makers of the NEW YORK KNICKS WORLD CHAMPIONS poster generously chose to include Jackson despite his inactive status during the ’69-’70 season, and that the poster sat idly, rolled up somewhere, until Ted Kamp’s attic room and future Inadvertent Museum of the Seventies came to be.
* It’s hard to articulate, given his silken Zenmaster demeanor now, how awkward, shaggy, and perspiratory Jackson’s style of play was: all elbows and flashes of armpit hair, every move to screen his man maximally effortful, every joule of energy expended.
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The WNEW on-air staff circa 1977, with Pete Fornatale second from left.
For a disc jockey, Pete Fornatale had a nerdy voice. But it was soothingly nerdy—imagine the friendly, reedy bleat of Ned Flanders of The Simpsons, only tamped down by Jackson Browne instead of hopped-up on Gospel.
Fornatale, who passed away on Thursday at the age of 66, was the beau idéal of the FM D.J., and I was lucky, in my youth, to happen upon him in his 1970s heyday at the New York station WNEW. In 1977, I was a pre-teen growing wary of the Top 40 AM station that I listened to regularly, WABC: the rote playlists, the noisy commercials, and the unctuous baritones that all their D.J.’s seemed to have, the aural equivalent of pompadours and bad dye jobs. What broke my faith in WABC for good was a family car ride on August 16 of that year, when we heard the station jock on duty announce, in the same brassy, hustling tones with which he’d earlier introduced Leo Sayer’s “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing,” “Elvis Presley diiiiiiiied today!” Good god, did these men not have souls?
My older siblings were already listening to WNEW, where Fornatale had worked since 1969, and I followed them there. WNEW had what would prove, in retrospect, to be an all-star stable of free-form FM pioneers, among them Scott Muni, Vin Scelsa, Alison Steele, and Dennis Elsas, but Fornatale was the one who spoke to me, literally and spiritually. That voice, which to my AM-trained juvenile ears sounded so wrong for radio, made him seem like an underdog, a dork among the cool kids, which suited my own self-perception. And the eclecticism of his shows was liberating. It wasn’t hip to like the Beach Boys at that time, but I loved them and Pete played them, and he was unafraid to intermarble the strange, twitchy new music of the nascent New Wave (e.g., the B-52s’ “Rock Lobster” and Talking Heads’ “Pulled Up”) with the denimy, singer-songwriterly sounds of Browne, James Taylor, and Joni Mitchell.
My brother was on WNEW’s mailing list and late in ’77 received a giant wall poster (above) featuring all of the station’s D.J.’s peering through the windows of an old train car, its exterior graffitied (suitably for the period) with the slogan BUILT ON SOLID ROCK. It was gratifying to discover that Fornatale looked exactly as I expected him to: skinny, bespectacled, and bearded—your kindly adjunct professor of rock studies.
In the 1980s, I fell out of love with radio, and so, it seems, did Fornatale, who felt increasingly marginalized by formatting strictures and the rise of shock-talk. But the streaming-and-podcast era brought me back into the fold, with one station in particular, WFUV-FM, which broadcasts from the campus of Fordham University in the Bronx, enchanting me with its remarkably vintage-WNEW-like spirit. How apt, then, that this station turned out to be not only the very place where Fornatale got his start as a college sophomore in 1964, but also the place where he finally found a proper home again in his later years. (Scelsa and Elsas have also found safe haven at FUV.) Fornatale hosted a Saturday program called “Mixed Bag,” each week devoted to a specific theme; as recently as two weeks ago he was on the air, commemorating the centennial of the Titanic’s sinking with a characteristically all-over-the-place playlist.
The big WNEW poster still hangs upon a wall of my brother’s old bedroom, which my septuagenarian mother has never bothered to redecorate, rendering it an unwitting shrine to the FM era. Pete and his colleagues smile out at a poster on the opposite wall of the Willis Reed-era Knicks, and a few feet away from a tacked-up still of James and Carly from the No Nukes concert film, and near a novelty bumper sticker that reads JESUS SAVES—BUT MOSES INVESTS! It’s precisely the kind of mixed bag that would have made for a great Pete Fornatale show.
Listen here for an amazing 1977 in-studio appearance by an uncommonly chipper Brian Wilson on Pete Fornatale’s WNEW show.