Featured in The Front Man, the Loaded Poets is a rock band that was formed in North Brunswick, NJ in January of 1980 when then schoolmates Jim Wood (vocals), Dan Snyder (keyboards), John Kayne (guitar), Mark Francione (bass), and Eric Hoffer (drums) were assembled by teen impresario and subsequent noted independent filmmaker Paul Devlin.
The reason for Devlin’s Malcolm McLaren-like aspirations are still unknown, as he basically assembled the band and then withdrew like a reptile abandoning a nest of eggs. Perhaps it is Devlin’s current project, The Front Man, a film about the band’s 30-year odyssey of obscurity, that may finally explain his original and profoundly proactive intentions.
The Front Man: Official Soundtrack by The Loaded Poets
Schooled through puberty in the musical angst of punk and new wave, the band members originally toyed with several lame band names before deciding on The Deal, a name that lead singer Wood had previously given to a favored drink of grape Kool-Aid and vodka. The band began rehearsing in the revolving basements and garages of their parents, and their first gigs were the various high-school graduation parties that coincided with their ability to play a song from start to finish without crashing. Early gigs featured an all-cover line-up of Sex Pistols, Elvis Costello, Ramones, Joe Jackson, B-52s, etc, before the band began performing original compositions (Wood had already begun writing years earlier based on his screaming hormones and was performing originals with piano accompaniment at talent shows and other school-oriented performances). At one of their most memorable performances, the boys gigged at a McDonald’s grand opening in their home town. When the fast-food franchise manager (no fan of rock) pulled the plug on the band, Wood initiated friction by going above the manager’s head and asking Ronald McDonald (who was also in attendance) whether the band could continue to play. When Ronald said yes and the manager still said no, Wood loudly brought the manager’s disrespect of the iconic fast-food clown to the attention of the clientele. The power was not restored, and the band was given several burgers and dismissed.
Brushes with the Illusion of Fame
Several roommates and friends took turns “managing” the band, most notably Ted “Houseboat” Goldberg, who nearly created Neck Records but lacked funds, acumen, and means. Music and video entrepreneur Robin Gamble also took a turn, but became frustrated, as did others, by the band’s unwillingness to take direction. Wood’s then-neighbor Mitch Levine introduced the band to Dave LeSage (producer of Melanie), who remixed a few of the band’s studio recordings to no one’s liking. During this time, Wood (then 24) married, which Snyder thought was a signal of the band’s undoing. Snyder took it upon himself to act as the marketing arm of the group, and established an association with London-based producer Mark Dean (who claimed to have discovered George Michael and Soft Cell) through attendance at a series of Dean’s NYC music workshops. Through perseverance, brown-nosing, and offering himself as Dean’s assistant free of charge, Snyder was able to interest Dean in the band’s music. Several NYC meetings followed, during which Dean advised certain band members to lose weight and asked, in general, whether the band was ready to be famous. Snyder himself took two business trips to London, but neither bore fruit as Dean remained highly optimistic but severely unfocused. The final blow came when Dean joined the boys in the studio with a “DJ,” who proceeded to add hip-hop beats to the band’s rock- and new-wave-influenced tracks. The results were disappointing to all, and the relationship disintegrated. The work-for-free program Snyder had established with Dean was wearing thin on his high-earning wife, and Snyder surrendered his post as band marketer. Shortly after this episode, Snyder announced that his wife was pregnant, which Wood thought was a signal of the band’s undoing. As Snyder’s first child was being toilet trained, the band changed their name to Loaded Poets in order to convince themselves that the band was new.
In 1999, the boys released a collection of new and previous studio recordings entitled Seeing Things, which was manufactured through DiscMakers and sold through The Orchard (as part of the DiscMakers package). The band performed a CD release gig at The Court Tavern, at which the boys wore 1970s house dresses and Wood played quarters with the audience. Gigs at Kenny’s Castaways in NYC and Maxwell’s in Hoboken followed, during which the band shaped new material for their next CD. (It is worth noting that the band, largely driven by the silliness of Wood and Snyder, has always been known [by those who know them] to be highly entertaining live. Before he contracted gout, Wood dove over bars or, if a wireless microphone was available, left the club completely and sang from the parking lot. Wood and Snyder took turns outdoing each other in terms of costume, which included the aforementioned house dresses, choir robes, devil outfits, dry-cleaning garment bags, and adult-size pajamas complete with unhinged drop-drawers. At one particular show at the Jersey shore, Wood lathered and shaved Snyder’s ass to the simultaneous delight and horror of the audience. Wood, ever literary, was fond of creating large signs for each show, which he would hold up for the audience to read; messages included “Give the Band the Finger,” “Guitar Player Needs Poon,” and “Think About Dancing.”) Wood took a turn at the heavy lifting at this point and did a mass mailing of the CD to independent labels; follow-up did not bear fruit, and CD sales were minimal (royalties totaled less than $100 over a decade) due to infrequent gigging. Piracy, however, brought the music to China, Japan, and Russia, as well as several non-approved sales outlets. The band enjoyed the hassle-free exposure, and didn’t mind the lack of cash, as each was now making more at their day jobs than they would at rock. They were also amused at the English-to-Japanese-to-English translations of their song titles, which bore no resemblance to the originals.
In 2001, Wood’s wife Christie received a call from the producer of The Howard Stern Show, who asked if she would be interested in coming on the show to enter a contest in which she would make out with the encephalitic Beetle Juice for a self-identified prize. Christie agreed, and her prize was to have one of the band’s cuts from Seeing Things played on the air. The other contestant wanted breast implants. Although Christie was the clear winner (the other contestant didn’t even kiss Beetle), the breast-implant-desirer was given the prize, most likely because the segment was a veiled advertisement for cosmetic surgeon Sal Calabro (speculation on Wood’s part). Stern did, however, mention the band’s Web site (created upon the release of Seeing Things by Kayne), which resulted in 20,000 hits overnight and more than 100 emails, all but a few of which praised the band’s work, the balance trashing it viciously. Subsequent television airings of the episode on the E Channel all resulted in further drastic spikes in Web traffic, which the band did nothing to prepare for in terms of sales and marketing due to their trademark paralysis, which they now wore as a badge of honor as no other choice was left to them.
Mid-Life: Babies, Day Jobs, and Recording
Neither Wood’s marriage, Snyder’s children, Wood’s child, or Kayne’s marriage- which various band members thought were signals of the band’s undoing-undid the band, and the boys settled into a pattern of jamming/songwriting and recording as their schedules allowed. In a near-world record, the band (meeting each Wednesday) recorded and mixed their second CD, SuperStarDumb, over a period of 7 years (encompassing the entire Bush presidency). Only Steely Dan rivaled the Poets’ mind-numbing timeframe for CD completion. Tragically, Kayne discovered after the final mixing that the recordings were technically flawed, and attempts to rectify the problem (“too much high end”) failed. The band had begun writing new material during the final work on SuperStarDumb, and decided to scrap the former project and begin working on their next CD (with their radar high for technical hurdles), tentatively entitled Bangable. This CD was put on hold as the soundtrack to the movie about the band (see The Film tab) took priority.’
Paul Devlin, founding non-member of the band, re-inserted himself into his abandoned creation in 2001, when he began filming Wood on a lark to see if “anybody who didn’t know him would think he was funny.” As the band dragged itself toward its 30-year anniversary, Devlin began to shape the film into its current “only-in-America, dream-on-life-support” saga. Devlin entitled the film The Front Man, and, after a successful KickStarter campaign, the film has been finished and is being accepted at 2014 film festivals, including the film’s premier at CineQuest in San Jose, California. Perhaps now the Poets will get their due, or at the very least, a few compliments. Should the film somehow catapult the band to unexpected success, all band members agree that it will undoubtedly be the band’s undoing.