Helen On Wheels, in a Summer of Music

Do Teens Change Music? For that matter, Why Do Fools Fall in Love? WHERE MUSIC LIVES author Helen Pike seeks the answers, and she’ll be invoking the spirit of juvie chart-topper (turned junkie rock-bottomer) Frankie Lymon to find out.

It is well nigh impossible to keep up with Helen-Chantal Pike.

We mean that in the sense that it’s always difficult to stay current with the collected works of the prolific local historian, author, raconteuse and rocky-ological digger of diverse sounds. We also mean that if you have a notion of, say, joining her in a drink and a bit of catch-up conversation, well, you have to keep up to catch up. Like, literally chase after her as she fireballs forward to your appointed destination, with or without you.

The editor of the recently published anthology of essays known as Asbury Park: Where Music Lives has had a busy bunch of months, even by Helenic standards — with much of that activity centered around the city’s hosting of the Smithsonian’s touring New Harmonies exhibit and its attendant year-long slate of interrelated music-themed events.

That aforementioned anthology — a whirlwind carousel ride past some little-known corners of Asbury musical history; written in many instances by the very people who gave those scenes their soundtracks — was the “guest of honor” at a July 10 “Book Jam” event on the stage of Asbury Blues; an evening that featured such pieces of the Asbury musical mosaic as Sonny Kenn, Xol Azul Band frontman “Gee” Guillen, folk singer/ folklorist George Wirth, saxman Dorian Parreott (performing a piece written in Asbury for Fats Waller), gospel singer Tyron McAllister, opera/ cabaret vocalist Brett Colby, and Patsy Siciliano (performing an original song about the city penned by doo wop specialist Ray Dahrouge).

If you’ve reckoned that Pike’s peaked as regards the promotion of that book (her tenth in toto and her third on the city in particular), then reckon again: she’ll be on the scene for Sand Blast Weekend; signing copies of her Asbury-centric titles on Friday, July 22 between the hours of 4 to 7pm at the Asbury Galleria inside Convention Hall’s Grand Arcade. Then on Tuesday, July 26 she’ll be taking over the historic Stephen Crane House — yeah, the same hallowed haunt where the author of this blog makes his home these days — for the first of three “Music Memoir” events that culminate with an “Unplugged” words ‘n music birthday party on August 9.

Of course, absolutely none of this even begins to address the question “Do Teens Change Music?” — or precisely what any of it has to do with Frankie Lymon. That’s another story entirely, natch — about which more after the break.

George Wirth, Kevin John Allen and Richard Morris are among the Shore acousticats helping Helen Pike celebrate her birthday on August 9.

Few if any actual teens could likely hazard an unassisted guess as to the identity of Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers — but back in 1956 that 13 year old former pimp, future bigamist, veteran junk user and angel-voiced pre-pube pop sensation was blitzing the Billboards with a wholesome crossover brand of matching-sweaters-and-streetlamps “rock and roll” that included the transcendent “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?,” the retro revivalist “Goody Goody” and the curiously conceptualized “I’m Not a Juvenile Delinquent.” On their way to an early breakup and a career second-act that would be the stuff of high drama and low consumer interest, Lymon and company would make some genuine inroads toward drawing in a largely desegregated audience — and it was just such a crowd, a mix of black and white and townie and tourist, that poured into Convention Hall on July 1, 1956 for one of the city’s first experiments in hosting this controversial new music on its family-friendly boardwalk.

With all due respect to Pike, the story of that infamous, interrupted concert and its attendant night of street fighting is told with eloquence and context by Daniel Wolff in his splendid book Fourth of July, Asbury Park. For the August 30 event known as THE LYMON LEGACY: Do Teenagers Change Music?, Pike returns to The ShowRoom screening space on Cookman Ave for a discussion of “political, cultural and economic hurdles that altered the course of music history in the entertainment capital of the Jersey Shore,” using the Lymon show — a night that stands in retrospect as an early harbinger of the crossroads the city would find itself at, regarding a fast-changing social order, the devil’s music, and a long-entrenched tilt toward separation of the races. It’s a two-part presentation that promises the participation of “a Superior Court Judge (Pat Guadagno‘s brother?), a concert promoter who once played with Southside Johnny (Tony Pallagrosi?), a storyteller (Helen?), and a classical composer (we have notions)” — joined in performance by “three young people who represent Asbury Park’s music future.” Tickets for that 7:30pm event are priced at $10, and can be reserved through Pike’s website or The ShowRoom.

Before all that, the author is inviting musicians — or anyone for whom life comes with a soundtrack — to a two-part workshop on Music Memoirs: How to Write Them. Pitched as an adjunct to the Asbury Park Music Heritage Festival 2011, the session “will take a light-hearted approach to encourage people who’ve always wanted to write their life’s story” — this from an experienced solicitor and compiler of personal histories (she boasts of having coaxed some 60 “mini memoirs” from dozens of contributors to her earlier book, Asbury Park’s Glory Days) who freely admits that “My memoir is still a work in progress.” Workshop dates and times are from 7 to 9pm on July 26 and August 2; it’s $15 to participate (or $35 for all three Tuesday events at the Crane House), with reservations taken at 732.542.2068.

Getting back to that August 9 event: it’s an evening in which Pike opens a new chapter in her own memoir with the participants in her workshop, as well as some special guests from her big black book of “musicians I’ve befriended during the musical heritage festival,” here “performing their own work because I don’t sing!”

Helen herself will be among the folks reading specially prepared essays (in her case, a “first experience of Asbury Park as a child”), interspersed with sets by Where Music Lives contributor George Wirth, Kevin John Allen (a Nashville-pedigreed songwriter whose debut CD has just come out), artist and vocalist Maxine Snow from Women of Song (accompanied by Terraplane Bluesman Gary Wright) and mandolinist Richard Morris of Brooklyn-based bluegrass battalion M Shanghai String Band (here expected to “jazz up his bluegrass roots”). Tickets for this event only are priced at $10, and include birthday cake. Cake!

“I can’t think of a better birthday,” says Pike, adding that “Asbury is a key city for acoustic music…over 175 people showed up for the JAMA Awards last time out.”

That number again for reservations — and operators are standing by — is 732.542.2068. Still on sale are plenty more copies of Where Music Lives, a nicely packaged little volume that’s worth both a look-see and a word-of-mouth to anyone/everyone with any interest in things musical — because, as is evident by reading this book, Asbury Park is even more of a sonic smorgasbord than most of us have even given it credit for. Included in the collection are the expected solid pieces by Sonny Kenn and Jean Mikle (on the bars-‘n-cars Circuit), Rick Benjamin (on the legendary bandleader Arthur Pryor) and Dorian Parreott (on the West Side jazz scene), along with a grab-bag of surprises like Brett Colby on the late Madame Era Tognoli‘s Metro Lyric Opera; Patsy Siciliano on the origins of the “S.O.A.P.” Sound, and our personal favorite surprise: keyboard kingpin Gladstone Trott on the many amazing instruments that existed, largely out of sight but definitely not out of earshot, within the city’s nightclubs and houses of worship.

For Helen Pike, it’s on to other projects and adventures — she’ll host “a special fete for all 10 of my titles to date” at the Asbury Galleria on September 17; join Paranormal Books for a special Halloweentide offering, and return with Women in Song to Ruby’s Cafe at Atonement Lutheran Church in October — and for the rest of us, it’s time to catch up on a savvy summer read, and hopefully be ready for whatever next happens down the pike.

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