Hello. Nice to meet you. I was born on September 21, 1963 in Queens, New York. H. G. Wells, Bill Murray, Stephen King, Larry Hagman, Leonard Cohen, Chuck Jones and XTC's Dave Gregory share the same birthday with me. Uh oh.
My family moved to Woodmere, Long Island when I was 4. The earliest hero I had was Charlie Chaplin, whose films were shown on Sunday afternoons on the local public television station. I wanted to be an entertainer, or at the very least do something artistic with my life. In first grade I began making up short stories and by the end of my esteemed elementary school career I had impressed many a teacher with my creative writing skills. In fourth grade I adapted my favorite movie, "Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory" into a short play and got to be Willy Wonka myself. My friend Doug Miller played Charlie Bucket. Our teacher Mrs. Goldwater also appointed me editor in chief of the mock newspaper we wrote set during the Revolutionary War period called "Colonial Capers".
Still inspired by Chaplin, in junior high school I got a Super 8 film camera and made numerous 3 minute shorts such as "Inspector Clouseau Buys a House", "the illiturit shmuk" and me impersonating both Chaplin and Groucho Marx. Another new hobby of mine was to lock myself in my bedroom and record improvised radio call in shows on a variety of subjects, playing the host, the callers, and even doing all the commercials. By the time high school rolled around, I was whipping up secret parodies of the school's newspaper "Mental Pabulum" called "Mental Problem" which I would pass around to my classmate friends in hopes that no teacher ever got a hold of it. They never did.
In 1979 my now best friend Doug Miller played me some selections from his older brother's record collection. For the first time in my life I heard The Kinks, Elvis Costello, Jonathan Richman and Wreckless Eric. Everything had suddenly changed. I was in love with music and became an obsessive collector of everything The Kinks had ever released. Within one year I had it all. The first three live concerts I attended were Steve Martin at the Nassau Coliseum, The Kinks at the same location and then three days later The Ramones, who were so loud they blew the fuses that shut all the power off in the club about 5 times throughout the show.
1981 and I was off to attend Union College in Schenectady, New York with the intention of studying to be a doctor. One week later I changed my mind and got involved with WRUC-FM, the 10 watt college radio station on campus. I was being exposed to all kinds of new music, most of it from the collection of my roommate Bill who owned everything by Frank Zappa, The Residents, Brian Eno, Captain Beefheart, Talking Heads, Peter Gabriel, Fred Frith etc. I was assigned a very early Saturday morning weekly radio slot and used the opportunity to play all of the music I was now enjoying, in addition to improvising in-studio conversations between myself, newsman Dick Dynamic and weatherman Chip Snodgrass, all voiced by me. A friend and I also wrote and acted out a running radio serial entitled "The Man From Mahopac" about a particularly dumb guy who left his home and couldn't remember how to get back. I wonder if any of the 8 people who could hear my show enjoyed it?
Realizing that art courses were far easier than science, I enrolled in a photography class which proved to be very influential and beneficial to my grade point average. Taking pictures interested me and according to my professor I was pretty good at it too. From 1982 through the end of college in 1985 I took hundreds of sardonic black and white street photographs and even won a few contests in the process.
Another friend of mine introduced me to the music of XTC in 1983 and this event changed my life once again. I had finally heard what I considered to be the most impressive and creative band I had ever come across, and beyond that I believed that I had something in common with prinicipal songwriter Andy Partridge besides a similar sense of humor. I thought that if I could write songs I would try to create something that had common elements found in the best of XTC: oddly catchy melodies, great word play, playfulness and variety. As the now music director of WRUC, I concocted a successful scheme to interview Andy Partridge on the phone in January of 1984. My current musical hero did not disappoint, and when we spoke again 6 months later I had already decided to go to England on a term abroad that autumn. He offered his address and said I could visit but "just call first before you come over to make sure I'm home"! That summer, while doing valet parking at a local beach club (a vast improvement on my job selling Electrolux vacuum cleaners door to door the previous summer) I started to write my first song lyrics and eventually connected all that I had written using a thin story thread into "Zithery: The Musical". Then one week before heading to England, Doug Miller and I spent two hours in a recording studio as I recorded my first ever song "Reach By Speech". On September 10, 1984 my roommate Jeff and I flew to England and went straight to Andy's home town of Swindon to try to meet him. He was home when I called and met us at a local pub, then took us back to his house to hear hours of demos and the yet un-released new XTC album "The Big Express". This was another pivotal moment in my life as I had gotten to meet my hero and he was as nice as anyone I had ever met to that point. I also summoned the nerve to play him my first song "Reach By Speech" which he enjoyed enough to say that it was "the second best first song anyone has played me". Months passed, more song lyrics were written, and I returned to Schenectady with a burning desire to record my first batch of tunes despite having never done it on my own nor having the ability to play any instruments. Somehow I convinced my senior thesis advisor to allow me to record all of these songs using the school's brand new 4 track portastudio, and then set the whole thing to a live slide show of my photographs and some new drawings. This was to be my college thesis. By June of 1985, "When I Was Your Age: A Nostalgic Look at the Present" was complete. I had plunged head first into the process, recording and concocting 25 minutes of very strange songs, comedy bits, non sequiturs and who knows what else using a simple drum machine, some found percussion, toy keyboards and lots of mouth sounds. The live slide show was assembled and projected along with my tape to an audience of about 50 people on my second to last day at Union College. Despite the fact that the audience was confused and likely a bit unnerved, I received an A and graduated with honors!
Then it was back home to Woodmere to find a job. The first thing I found was not a job but rather the world's greatest radio station, free-form WFMU out of Upsala College in New Jersey. Listening to WFMU exposed me to a staggering amount of new music, general weirdness and a large community of like out-of-their-minded people, several of whom I became friendly with, like Irwin Chusid and home recording godfather R. Stevie Moore. WFMU also began to play some of my songs from "When I Was Your Age" which inspired me on to further audio adventures.
Eventually I managed to land the prestigious position of apprentice film editor at Morty's Film Services in Manhattan. I had no particular desire to be an editor, nor any qualifications, but my very extroverted game show announcer type phone message helped secure the job. Morty's edited tv commercials so I gained valuable experience working with film, but more importantly came across many, many new characters and lots of new comic material thanks to all the people that worked there. In the meantime at home I was busy recording lots of new "music" of my own on my new portastudio. By the end of 1987 I had 90 minutes of recorded bits at the ready, and assembled it into my first cassette "pOp cOrn" which included my senior thesis "When I Was Your Age" and another 45 minute span of stuff I called "Excuse Me", in addition to a montage of edited together bits of leftover noises I entitled "Scrap". Numerous copies were dubbed and forced onto friends and family. Work continued on at Morty's and so did recording at home. 1988 saw the completion of my second cassette, a 45 minute collection called "Extravaganza Deluxe!". Copies of this and "pOp cOrn" were sent around to various DIY magazines for review, and even to Dr. Demento who aired "Once" from "pOp cOrn" and "Dinner for None" from "Extravaganza Deluxe!" on his nationally syndicated radio show. Having grown dissatisfied with working on commercials for doughnuts and diarrhea medicine, Doug Miller and I decided to backpack around Europe to "find ourselves" though it was more akin to losing ourselves for a few months. While traipsing around everywhere except East Germany and Greece, I continued to come up with new songs I wanted to record, if and when I returned home. At the very end of my adventure I found myself in Wivenhoe, England and introduced myself to Martin Newell of Cleaners from Venus who was a friend of a friend of mine, Irwin Chusid of WFMU. We played each other our cover version of an unreleased Andy Partridge XTC composition called "Pearl" and Martin asked his friends to put me up for the week in their front room. While in Wivenhoe I wrote some more new material and developed a nasty cold which may have had some relation to also developing a taste for pints of the local beer.
As soon as I returned to Woodmere I felt the need to get a place of my own which materialized as a tiny studio apartment on Charles Street in Greenwich Village, Manhattan. I also returned to Morty's because I was too lazy to look for another job. More importantly, armed with a big batch of new songs, I was contacted by my first cousin Adam Cooperstein who suggested we record some stuff together. By the end of 1989 a brand new 60 minute cassette, described by a reviewer as "an adventure in silliness" was born -- "Big Hair" by the band HENWAY. It was the first time I had ever collaborated with anyone on music and the experience taught me much, most importantly that if you add bass to a song it usually sounds better! Around the same time I was asked by the owner of an indie label in New Jersey who I was friendly with if I wanted to perform three 10 minute live sets as part of an evening of music and comedy at an art gallery. Though I had never performed live before I agreed to do it, and worked up a series of inane bits and silly costumes to distract the audience from the fact that I was standing in front of them and singing to pre-recorded backing tapes of my songs without vocals. I found the experience scary but fun, and wanted to one day do more. A year later I was asked by the same friend to perform at the Trenton, New Jersey Heritage Festival. Armed with my backing tapes and silly costumes, Doug Miller and I headed to Trenton where I proceeded to perform two long sets of musical silliness in searing heat for an audience that usually consisted of drunken locals and their unleashed dogs all captured by Doug on videotape for posterity.
While slowly recording new songs, now featuring instruments including bass and guitars actually in tune, I decided it was time to leave Morty's, now called Morty's Digitorial thanks to advances in editing technology, and found a job at Dennis Hayes and Associates. The work was much harder and the new company was much busier, so to have an excuse to leave on time two days a week I signed up for classes in improv comedy and sketch writing with Gotham City Improv (originally the east coast half of LA's famed The Groundlings). With Gotham City my confidence on stage grew, and so did my repertoire which now included character monologue pieces such as a crazed algebra teacher entitled "As Easy as Pi", a washed up 1960s three hit wonder now serenading diners every Monday night at Mr. Chops Family Style restaurant named Sebastian, and a short lived accidental silent film star known as Barney Mahoney. At the same time I convinced The Knitting Factory in Manhattan to allow me to perform two solo shows of my own featuring, yes, silly costumes and backing tapes -- 1991's "You Plus Me Equals Us" and 1993's "Single Celled Circus" both of which were also videotaped by Doug Miller.
Backtracking for a moment, in May of 1989, as XTC snuck me in as their roadie to rehearsals for their appearance on "Late Night with David Letterman", I surprisingly met up with long lost elementary school friend Ken Weinstein, another musician and Manhattan resident. He and I recorded a few post-HENWAY songs together, and then in 1991 we set the lyrics of Ernest Noyes Brookings' "Salt and Pepper" to a salty Sgt. Pepper-esque tune and recorded as The Sheldon Glickberg Experience. It has yet be be released.
As the winter of 1994 came to a close, so did my Gotham City Improv performing career, as did my patience with working too hard. On a suggestion from Doug Miller, I quit my job, shaved my head and went to Greece for two months of peace, quiet, beaches and sun. While there I decided that I had grown tired of living in New York City and vowed to move to San Francisco once I returned from my vacation. In October of that same year I packed up all my belongings, my AVID editing skills, my sun block and headed west.
From 1994 through 1997 I lived in the Inner Sunset neighborhood of San Francisco, taking up street photography once again, only writing one or two songs, and working less than frequently, but enjoying the beautiful surroundings and weather. The growing pressure from my family and friends and my less than busy work situation eventually convinced me to move back to New York City, this time to the Cobble Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn where I have lived ever since.
In January of 1998 I was able to enroll in a once yearly songwriting course taught by my longest time songwriting hero Ray Davies of The Kinks and given in Sheepwash, Devon, England at the Arvon Foundation. With just six weeks to prepare for the course and not knowing at all what to expect, I practiced guitar 3 hours a day and taught myself to be able to perform a handful of my own songs. Prior to that I could play only one of my songs on acoustic guitar! The course, which took place in early March, turned out to be the most extraordinary week in my life thus far. 15 other students and I worked very hard, having to compose and perform as many as 8 songs in 5 1/2 days in front of everyone including Ray Davies, but we all got along famously and Ray was a wonderful, friendly, funny, supportive teacher. Several of the songs I wrote that week have been featured on my two cds including "Simplification", "Splendid", "Brother Nature" and the music set to new lyrics for "My Second Record" and "Clickin' and Surfin'". One week after returning home in a happy daze, I recorded solo acoustic demos of all the songs I had composed during the class and named the cassette "We Are the Sheepwash Appreciation Society".
Being spurred on by new cd releases of fellow classmates and friends Jim Smart, Gini Dodds and Jude Cowan, I decided that once and for all I wanted to release a cd of my own. No more cassettes for me. Expanding my home studio set up, I acquired an Akai DPS12 digital 12 track recorder and set to work. Old and half finished songs were dusted off and fancied up, and brand new tracks were embarked upon. Summoning up immense nerve, I asked Dave Gregory, now formerly of XTC and a long time friend, if he would be willing to help me out with some guitar on an electric version of "Simplification" and he obliged. What a thrill! Jim Smart, Gini Dodds and Ken Weinstein also joined in on a few new numbers. By the spring of 1999 my first cd "The Importance of Sauce" was born.
At that same time, having grown very weary of freelance AVID editing on projects that didn't truly interest me, I stumbled into the job of editing on the "Howard Stern Radio Show" - a Saturday night free-for-all montage fest of interviews, nonsense, freaks, foul language, nudity, insane stupidity and childish behavior on CBS television. I loved it! Two years later, once the show was canceled, I found myself both unemployed and desperate to record another cd. But first I took a trip to Rockport, Maine for an excuse to eat lobster and reignite my photography skills by taking a course at the Maine Photographic Workshops.
Back in Brooklyn and filled with new confidence in my abilities to make something coherent out of a wide variety of random ideas and silliness, work began on what would end up as my second cd "FRED". This time not only did I ask Dave Gregory to help me out on "Brother Nature" but I also asked Andy Partridge, now a faithful friend, regular correspondent, and still a great musical hero, to play guitar on one of my songs. He declined, but one week later offered to set lyrics I didn't have a tune for to his own music, which I could then record my own version of and include it on my cd. I faxed him my words to "I Wish I Was a Kid Again" and four hours later he left a message on my answering machine saying that he had already come up with a melody and chords in the form of "violent skiffle". A short time later he revealed these chords and tune on another answering machine message, and once I completed my version of it, with a little help from R. Stevie Moore, "FRED" was in the can. With wonderful cartoony artwork (and some backing vocals too) by my ex-girlfriend Anne D. Bernstein "FRED" was released on July 8, 2002. I'm very proud of it and hope you enjoy it too.
After the international excitement over FRED calmed down, I got to work on my long planned kid's album based on my song "Purple Burt" from The Importance of Sauce. 15 new songs have been written and several have already been recorded. Andy Partridge even offered to co-write one which is called "Pluto".
Recording progressed along nicely until it was interrupted by the need for me to whip out my acoustic guitar and start extensive rehearsals for my first ever live, completely solo acoustic show to be performed on September 21, 2003 (my 40th birthday). On that sunny, just about Autumn Sunday, I donned a pork pie hat and crooned 22 songs for family, friends and fans munching on the complementary pizza. The whole event was recorded directly to dat and assembled into a new cd called WHAT THE?
Now firmly ensconced in my 40s, it could only be appropriate to devote all of my free time to finishing my kid's album. Once again I was fortunate enough to get several of my hyper-talented friends to help me out. R. Stevie Moore and his wife Krys added some hilarious doo-wop vocals to "Wonder Where", and Stevie himself provided all manner of instrumental stylings on "What a Gas!". Andy Partridge helped to weirdify "Try This On For Size" with a couple of tracks of jazzy electric guitar. But the quintessential contribution was provided by Dave Gregory who created a stunningly lovely backing track for my song "Color Feel". Add a whole slew of fun illustrations by Anne D. Bernstein, a couple of wiggly eyes and voila' -- PURPLE BURT was born. Although it started out as a kid's album, I believe it ended up as an album that the whole family will enjoy. And based on all the positive reviews and actually reasonable sales, I turned out to be right this time!
It took me about a year to get back into the swing of things, but in 2006 I started on what would eventually end up being my brand new 2008 album "Game Show Teeth." Not a kid's album this time; this one is for slightly immature adults. Things have turned a bit more "rock" and self-assured too. Now with real drums! Once again I am so thrilled to be graced by a big slew of guest stars, including Andy Partridge, Dave Gregory, R. Stevie Moore, Joe McGinty (of NYC's Loser's Lounge fame), as well as some ridiculously talented but criminally unknown friends of mine such as Anne D. Bernstein, Jim Smart, Andrea Perry, John Dunbar, Daryl Bean, and Todd Bernhardt. I am genuinely proud of this one, and hope you enjoy it if you are so kind as to give it a try.
As of 2011, the page on this site formerly known as KNOW is now a blog. I'll be in touch more often. Promise.
And here we are . . .
Mitch Friedman, 2011
p.s. Many of the recordings, photos, videos, scripts, artwork and cassette covers mentioned can be found on this web site if you snoop around. Good luck and enjoy!