Shlabotniks Rising

The Joe Shlabotnik's Pt. 2

Editor's Note: This is the second excerpt from Bobby Stikowski's unpublished manuscript "The Famous, the Not So Famous and the Infamous: Rockers in New York 1980-1993." The title is the most interesting thing about the book. This is the only surviving piece from it. Mr. Stikowski disappeared a year ago with a bottle of scotch and is expected back any day now.

So the Garage had one album out. It didn't make the Billboard Hot 100, but it didn't miss by much, peaking at 103 in 1987. Jimmy Westfelter, the bands leader, saw bigger things coming. But he didn't forsee the problems.

They started when the band's option got picked up by a bigger record company. This meant that they had more money to make the second album. This also meant there was more pressure to produce a hit. Terry said, "The contract they had us sign was, like, four feet thick. Ian was as happy as a pig in (word deleted) but Paul and me and Jimmy were all a little apprehensive." What pushed them forward? "Tim. He told us we should sign it because when we got to be as big as he knew we were gonna be, we could sign a contract anywhere we wanted and forget all that (word deleted.)"

The first thing the record company did was hire a better producer. "It was good and it was bad," Terry remembered. "The producer guy was a genius, I'll give him that. But he was a real artiste, a total dirt-bag who wanted to control everything, including writing all the songs. Jimmy didn't go for that at all." The band had been largely Jimmy's conception from start to finish, and he didn't want to give it up. "Plus this guy was messed up all the time. It wasn't just the usual stuff, he was on another planet, always talking about space aliens landing and stealing milk from cows in Iowa. It was weird."

What about the other band members? "Ian didn't care. He could play bass, tell him what to play and he played and when he was done he was out the door." What about Paul? "Paul tried real hard to catch the vision, but he was wanting to do his own thing. Jimmy wrote all the songs on the first album and the Garage was Jimmy's band. Paul could play better than Jimmy and he could sing better, so he wanted to go off and be a star." Why didn't he? "Contractual obligations. That plus he couldn't write. Jimmy may not have been Shakespeare, but he could certainly write good songs." And what about Terry? "Yeah, it was good, it was all good. Paul was starting to be a jerk, and Jimmy was starting to get real mad all the time. Ian just played and then ran off to party. That left me alone in the studio with Jimmy and the producer." Would we recognize the producer's name? "Yeah, but I don't like to think about it. He was a genius, I'll give him that. But he wanted to throw out all of Jimmy's songs and write all the stuff himself. That drove Jimmy crazy."

It came to a head one day when Jimmy showed up for the sessions early, as he usually did. "The studio might not even be open, but Jimmy would show up and get in somehow," Terry remembered. "He would tune up, then just mess around on the instruments. Sometimes he wrote whole songs while waiting for other people." This day, however, he found the producer in early, which had never happened before. "He was always totally late and half in the bag when he showed up," Terry told a reporter in '89. "This time he was totally early and totally in the bag. He was out of his mind on something, and he had all the tapes we had been working on in a pile on the floor. Jimmy found him erasing stuff, including one that we had been working on for the last two days."

Jimmy hit the roof. "I got there a little early that day and found Jimmy with his hands around the guys throat," Terry remembered. "He was red as a beet and was calling him things that I would never repeat to my mother. The producer-guy, he's yelling that Jimmy's mother was from some alien planet and was taking milk from goats in Idaho for some kind of experiment. Something about artificial growth hormones and psilocybin. I didn't get it at all. Anyway, he said he had to erase the tapes to save the world from alien mind control." Terry and a couple of studio employees managed to pull Jimmy off the guy ("That was a job," Terry said,) and as Terry sat on Jimmy, the two employees dragged the producer off, screaming that Jimmy's mother either resembled a mountain goat or was a mountain goat, no one is totally sure.

It had taken two weeks out of a scheduled three to get to this point, and now they had only four songs completed out of ten and two they were working on. Plus the producer had erased some work they had just recently finished. Jimmy was beyond frustrated. The first album, they had the songs worked out before they went in, and they knocked it out in a week. And since they had been at a small potatoes company, no executive was breathing down their neck to make a hit single. Now they had half an album, were running out of time, lost their producer and on top of everything else had Don Laswell, the A&R man at the company, demanding they write a hit single. "He was a real jerk," Terry told me once, "and he and Jimmy almost got into a fistfight once." Laswell seemed to envision another Romantics, whose "What I Like About You" didn't break them out but did get them noticed, followed by a more radio-friendly album with two big singles. Jimmy saw Blondie, who followed up Parallel Lines, one of the really great albums, with Eat To The Beat, a collection of "Heart Of Glass" clones with only one decent song. "It got so the two of them couldn't even be in the same room together," Terry told me once. "Literally, if they just happened to show up in the same place at the same time, it got very tense."

How did Jimmy handle it? "By starting to go batty," Terry said. Tim's rare interview on the subject sheds a little more light. "Most musicians party, but not Jimmy. Sure, he had a beer like everyone else, but he didn't run off to parties. Ian, you couldn't pry the guy away from one. Paul was always up for fun, but when he had work he focused." Terry was doing his thing, but Jimmy "was so focused on making the band a success that a lot of times I don't think he even left the studio. His clothes would reek after a few days." Terry remembered, "Jimmy got even worse with his army thing. He wanted to drill everyone every day and Paul and Ian reacted by being unreliable."

So what are you gonna do?

"Well, we had to calm Jimmy down, that was for sure. And we had to get songs back together."

In an effort to calm the mostly pharmaceutical-free bandleader down, Tim called in an aromatherapist. Really? "Yeah," Terry remembers, "we all thought Tim was nuts. But he was willing to try anything at that point. Jimmy didn't party, so he needed something." The person who arrived was a man who was going by the name of Solomon Lablonsky. Actually, he had been born Leonard Lipschitz in Waukegan, IL., the son of a used tire salesman and a waitress. He had dropped out of school in the tenth grade (not wanting to complete his third try.) Somewhere he picked up the Lablonsky tag and landed in New York City, proclaiming himself one of the great olfactory specialists in the just beginning field of aromatherapy. "What I remember is the effect he had on your olfactory sense when he walked in the door," Terry remembers. "He had a cloying scent of honey and chamomile mixed with what seemed like him not taking a bath for a week or five."

Nobody took Lablonsky seriously except Tim and Jimmy. "It worked," Terry repeated to me in an interview. "(Expletive deleted) if I know how it worked, but Jimmy calmed down and got to work. We had ten songs, and with him doing okay even Ian settled into the groove and stopped partying long enough to get the frickin' thing done."

But there was a problem. "No single," Tim Voorhees recounted in his rare interview. "That Laswell (expletive deleted) was breathing down Jimmy's neck. Jimmy had a solid package but it was basically The Garage II, know what I mean? If you liked the first one you'd love the second, but if you ignored the first one you wouldn't rush out for the second."

Again, so what are you gonna do?

Ask the drummer!

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