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Saturday, January 7, 2012

1-7-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #4 (Village Voice freelance Rock Writer) & 1-6-12 (Happy Birthday, daddy!)

Okay, so it’s the summer of 1974. Beloved father dies, eldest daughter goes to her first rock concerts with her beau, Ira, from the hood in Bayside, Queens. They go to hear Mott the Hoople at the Uris Theater on Broadway, and David Bowie at Madison Square Garden. After attending my second rock concert, ever, I felt compelled to write a concert review, using as may “fifty dollar words” as I could muster, inspired no doubt by the effete stylings of Melville or something from the 19th century. “Cynosure” was one of my favorite words, but I digress.

I mailed off my proud three-page double-spaced review to “Music Editor, Village Voice, NYC 10013.” I had just turned 18 that spring, and in the fall was heading off to college at SUNY Purchase. I was glad to have something to do to get my mind off that terrible loss of my father. I had no idea how to pitch a story or even the name of the editor. But I did it.

In early September, a letter came to my mom’s house, in Queens, from Robert Christgau, the new music editor of the Village Voice, responding to my review and telling me to “think more and write less.” God bless you, Robert Christgau!! It was one of the darkest times in my young life and it felt like a true miracle. He said to give a call, so I phoned Christgau from SUNY Purchase (at a pay phone down the hall in my dorm) and he assigned the new Jefferson Starship album & concert for me to review. With a new sense of purpose I dragged out my electric typewriter and GOT TO WORK.

For the next four years, while attending college (four different locations – a glutton for punishment, I transferred a few times due to changing location and interests), I wrote for hire as rock writer TRIXIE A. BALM.

Trixie A. Balm was a name I dreamed up on the LIE one night driving with the chunk-a chunk-a roar of tires against the buckling asphalt expressway, sitting beside my high school sweetheart, the aforementioned Ira (heck of a piano player and band leader at the time, although the band had a terrible name, “Chords Melody” – really!). “Trixie,” I thought, was a name so unlike me, so very like a peroxide blonde honky tonk angel, and “A. Balm” was a play on words that could mean “A bomb” or “a soothing unguent-type balm.” That, plus the initials T.A.B. were my favorite beverage at the time, Tab soda.

Trixie wrote for the Voice, Creem, Circus, Gig, National Screw, and many other fine publications. . . and earned her way through college on inspiration, perspiration, and a definite talent for a turn of phrase. This was a rockin’ start to a creative writing career.


1-6-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Remembering Dad and his Jobs on the Occasion of his Birthday (he would be 81 years old if still alive)


My father, Bernard F. Agnelli, was the first of three boys in a second-generation northern Italian immigrant family. His grandfather’s name was Bernard; his father’s name was Joseph: both names figure prominently in several generations. When I moved to Chester, CT, I found out that other Agnellis, our “country cousins,” settled there at the turn of the 20th century. They were farmers who raised very impressive horses, I’m told. But Bernard Agnelli and Mary Corno, his wife, moved to New York City, where their children assimilated into American life and became executive secretaries (Aunt Toots) and Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) of the Bell Newspaper Syndicate (Grandpa Joe).

Grandpa Joe Agnelli married a non-Italian, Muriel Nissen, whose writing and cooking talent and frequent bouts of migraine headache I inherited. Of their three sons – Bernie, Joey, and Artie – our dad was the best and the brightest, purportedly. They dwelt in a nice little house in St. Albans, Queens, where Bernie met Bobbie (Barbara VDL), our mom.

But mostly, the Agnellis – and our dad – were mysterious. . . that’s the best word to express my frustration at how little we know about them, REALLY. The few dimly recalled facts that remain make interesting reading, nonetheless:

B.F. Agnelli attended St. Francis Xavier High School and Fordham University, majoring in Philosophy and Ancient Languages (Greek and Latin). Jesuit-trained, he thought for a while that his vocation was to be a Jesuit priest. For one year dad attended seminary (in Paris, France), but he came home and decided to marry mom instead.

When first married, dad worked as a reporter for the Bergen Evening Record in New Jersey. Then he went into the Army Reserves in Fort Benning, located in Columbus, Georgia. He was a lieutenant and wrote for the Fort Benning paper. Back in New York two years later, dad started working as a “P.R. Man” for Burston Marstellar, Western Union and Diamond International. He then became Publicity Director for the NY Blood Center. From there, he spent two years doing publicity for the Singapore Investment Center, and our family very nearly moved to Singapore in 1968 (mom wouldn’t hear of it – she loved Queens). After directing PR for the tiny but mighty new nation at the tip of the Malay Peninsula (Singapore!), dad went to work for J. Walter Thompson. About this time, he also went to night school for graduate courses in Economics. He became the head of a new business-focused division at J. Walter Thompson, Dialog. Bernard Agnelli, now the father of four, was doing well.

Then, at age 43, he passed away, a massive heart attack. And his daughter, Lauren, published her first piece, “Intimate Yet Objective: An Elegy to Bernard Agnelli.” Published in the local paper, The Little Neck Ledger, this In Memoriam piece was five hundred words typed on a Smith Corona electric machine, and was my first experience of the Red Smith adage: “Writing is easy. You just open a vein and bleed.” It is unlike the below adapted prayer -- one of many fun creative writing exercises I enjoy doing because it’s close to lyric writing, finding the right length/syllables word with the right sound and the right meaning, and maybe getting a chuckle or two.

Our father, who art in heaven, Bernard be thy name; thy kingdom done, thy had some fun on earth, if he is in heaven. Give us this day our daily blog, and forgive us our travesties, as we forgive those who travesty henceforth. Most of all, daddy, lead us not into tarnation, but deliver us from Tivo, Amen.

I love you, dad – Happy Birthday again.

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