The Birth of Something New

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[Previously: Ladies and Gentlemen, Introducing The Roommates!]

Ironically, the idea to go public was Scot’s. Scot has been the most private of the four, at times to the extreme. Frank went along readily, but Ted initially expressed guarded reluctance. With Scot and Ted doing most of the arranging and Frank providing cover and bail money, the proto-group soon found itself doing breakfast gigs at various New Haven coffee shops. Their first real break came in mid-September of 1978. After successfully covering some of the early rock artists at the Garbage Can Rally, (“We did it for the dart board,” Scot was said to have explained mysteriously at the time), The Roommates embarked on a stint which gave them local notoriety. Working the graveyard shift at The Post Office, a local bar, the group came away with one of their most prized possessions – a 17th century solid oak library table. It was proudly displayed until just after Ted and Frank got out of the music business altogether in 1982.

“The Sound of Violence,” eventually released as a single in early 1980, captivated their early fans, who were mostly displaced third-world refugees and prep school students. This fringe element prodded the group on to tour the Northeast. Still, the mainstream felt The Roommates’ lyrics were too surrealistic. After a bloody fight with The Police on the platform at a Cleveland concert, even the moderates began to heed the words of The Roommates. The fight occurred on September 10, 1979. Who can forget the cathartic picture of Ted as he fell from the stairs, nearly ending his career? Within weeks, The Roommates were a national sensation. Why did this happen? How did this happen? Can civil charges still be filed?

Throughout most of the seventies, popular music tried to express itself with a new sound. After nearly all of the most celebrated groups of the sixties had either split or drowned in their own vomit, and after the most promising newcomers in the seventies committed death by airplane, true rock and roll had disappeared. By 1975, the rock industry had been overtaken by Madison Avenue. Mellow predominated until 1977, when Wall Street completed the merger between the social aspirations of rock music with the economic imperatives of big business. Taking a form of “soul” music and marrying it with the “suburban shopping mall concept” birthed a new genre of music that today we call “disco.” It seemed the best of both worlds, acceding to national concerns for social integration and still making a buck out of it. The climax of the formula was reached when Hollywood resurrected a dead white band from the sixties to perform in an intellectually anti-disco movie.

Saturday Night Fever did not sway the youth of the seventies, who longed for a sound of their own. Disco flourished. Madison Avenue was pleased. Wall Street was pleased. Motown was downright ecstatic. True youth, those of the eighties, were not. And they were old enough to effect a change. They were old enough to demand the music industry please please them. They were old enough, finally, to have discretion over their own spending.

This youth felt what their contemporaries of the seventies did not – the spirit of rock and roll was purposefully meant not to conform. Naturally, the establishment could not be involved. The path to popularity for The Roommates had been cleared.

The break came on Saturday, September 26, 1979, only a few weeks after what is now known as “The Clash” (with The Police in Cleveland). On that day, the youth of the eighties crashed the anemic party of the youth of the seventies. Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, by then firmly entrenched into the establishment (why else concede the theme song to Barry Manilow?), provided the stage. On that day, live, on national TV, the eighties and The Roommates became real. Just as Donna Summer’s remake of “MacArthur Park” segued into the number one dance number of the week, Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough,” hundreds of eighteen and nineteen year olds rushed the dance floor and sat down in silence, preventing anyone from shaking their booty. A clearly miffed Dick Clark pled with the rambunctious teenagers. He demanded they leave, but they neither budged nor spoke. Finally, their apparent leader rose from the center of the pack and began to chant what would become the mantra of the nation for nearly three years – “Roommates! Roommates! Roommates!” The rest followed, and soon even a miked Dick Clark could not be heard over what Time Magazine has called “The Roommates’ Grunt-In.” Though the unnamed “leader” of these protesters remarkably resembled Frank, detailed photographic analysis proved inconclusive.

[Next: Meet The Roommates – Scot: The True Leader – Silent, but Deadly]

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