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Then and Now

Sixties-music-loving Joe Glickman isn’t just nostalgic for a time before he was born—he’s making a career out of it

 


Photo by:
By Leif Zurmuhlen

By Erik Hage

In Joe Glickman’s backyard on a side street in Colonie sits a ’58 Buick—a faded, aqua-colored monstrosity that, quite frankly, has seen better days. Grass grows up through its flat tires and rust pocks its surface. The missing driver’s-side window is sealed up with cardboard and plastic. But the car—all striking lines, curved glass and layered chrome—is still a beauty for anyone with vision enough to see beneath the dilapidation; the design touches alone put to shame any contemporary vehicle. And at 400 bucks, Glickman is quite sure he got it for a steal.

The Buick is a righteous example of ’50s modernity: half spaceship, half car, like some giant, ornate art piece. And as Glickman traces his fingers across the striking details of the chrome grille and heaves open the turret-heavy hood, mapping out his restoration plans in one long, determined stream, the car seems to become more vivid by degrees, as if the mere resolve in his words were enough to breathe life into it for a moment, its metal sides heaving contentedly.

It may not happen soon, but you will see Glickman cruising down Central Avenue in that old Buick. That’s just the kind of person he is: persistent to the point of monomania, resourcefully energetic and painfully meticulous. Who is Joe Glickman? He’s a filmmaker, a musician, a video auteur, a legal advocate for an oldies group and, apparently, a recording artist. And you don’t know anyone like him.

He’s a 26-year-old scrapper and hustler who—out of a love for the music of Del Shannon (of “Runaway” fame) and ’50s-early ’60s tunes in general (that’s all he’s ever listened to since he was 9)—recorded a Shannon song, “So Long Baby,” for a pending national tribute album. Primarily a filmmaker, he also shot a full-blown, high-budget video for the track in Shannon’s hometown of Coopersville, Mich., and in the Capital Region. The video—on high-quality film stock, with elaborate period sets and a large cast—cost upwards of $50,000, a sum Glickman pieced together through savings, loans, credit cards and cash advances. He proudly points out that he’s finally paying the principal on his debt. “But for a while there,” he notes wryly, “I thought it was going to be so long baby to ‘So Long Baby.’”

Tomorrow (Friday) at the Saratoga Music Hall, he’ll premiere the video and play a concert of Shannon numbers with a group that will include Del’s old band members. “It’s basically my way of celebrating the completion of the video and going out with a big bang,” Glickman claims. “I’ve been working nonstop on just doing documentaries and music and things similar to this since 1997.” (Glickman claims he’d like to do something normal and mellow for a while to recharge his batteries, like “work in an arts-and-crafts store.”)

If all of this is not illustrative enough of Joe Glickman’s uncanny drive, consider another detail of his life: In 2000, while working on a self-funded documentary on the ’60s group Classics IV, who are responsible for the soft-rock hit “Spooky” (as in “. . . little girl like you”), Glickman—then only 22—succeeded in a tireless crusade to help band leader Dennis Yost get the rights to the Classics IV name back after imposters popped up on the oldies circuit (the moniker having been trademarked and sold away years ago by a crooked manager). “It was two years out of my life just researching law, but it was worth it in the end because we got the trademark back. Actually, it’s partly in my name now because of it.”

Glickman, who had dropped out of high school in 9th grade to basically home-school himself, pored through research on trademark law and collected piles of written documentation (and filmed a damning interview with the offending ex-manager). He then filed a petition for Yost; faced with so much evidence, the faux-group’s attorneys backed down and settled, surrendering the trademark. (Point of fact: Very few oldies groups succeed when battling imposters with trademark rights. The Box Tops are one of the few others.)

The saga typifies the tenacious Glickman, who rushed through his home studies so that he could get on with his self-prescribed destiny as a filmmaker, starting his Classics IV documentary at 19. He has always been out of step and out of time with his own generation; he not only looks and acts older than his 26 years, but unfurls his story in the crisp, poised, savvy narrative of someone much older, occasionally excusing himself to answer the peals of his cell phone, which cuts into our conversation with a few bars of “Runaway.”

Glickman’s tiny bedroom in the small, cozy, faux-wood-paneled home in a working-class Colonie neighborhood is bedecked with vintage rock memorabilia and treasured items—his cherry-red electric guitar, for example. “I had it built by a local guy to look exactly like Del’s,” he notes, pointing for comparison to a picture of Shannon on a nearby vinyl album cover. A few feet from Glickman’s bed, in a full-on concession to the new-millennium, sit two computers, various film-editing equipment and an imposing wall of humming monitors. He says he keeps everything close to his sleeping quarters in case he feels the creative urge to leap out of bed for inspired editing bursts in the middle of the night. (A downstairs security camera ensures the safety of his goods.)

With both of us packed into the little bedroom space, Glickman cues up the video, which he directed and edited himself, abetted by a professional cinematographer, an online effects designer and various crew members. What passes before our eyes is remarkably professional: Dancers wheel around a nightclub. Classic cars pack a drive-in movie. A ’50s police cruiser whips down a country road. A Michigan town square is re-created to look like 1961. The composition and kinetics—the sense of motion in the editing cuts, the orchestration of numerous actors/extras, the crispness of colors and lighting—are way above indie or amateur caliber. And at the center of it all is Joe, sporting vintage duds and pompadour and lip-synching to his own impressively pitch-perfect vocals. It’s quite a performance on a variety of levels.

But for Glickman, the devil is in the details, in the touches that the average viewer might miss. He points to meticulous postproduction nuances, such as a marquee way in the distant background in Coopersville that he Photoshopped and added in (because one was there in ’61). He also brought in a local propmaster to “construct the license plates on the cars to look like 1961 Michigan plates.” (The plates boast coded references: Shannon’s and Glickman’s birthdates, album-master numbers, etc.)

Beyond the exteriors filmed in Michigan, local sites crop up as well: the Malta Drive-In, Hoffman’s Playland, Trink furniture store, the Fuze Box. The latter actually provided him with his initial inspiration. “I had grown fond of the Fuze Box, the look of it, like a martini lounge. And I thought to myself, ‘I want to make a music video here.’” At that point Glickman had no idea what the song would be—and he certainly had no plans to perform it himself. But one day, while listening to an old cassette of Del Shannon tunes, he found his muse in the form of “So Long Baby,” an obscure track that Glickman had almost forgotten over the years. “I knew that I had to rerecord it. But it had to be identical to Del Shannon’s version in order to visually relate his song back to my video.”

Glickman, in typical detail-mania, spent two years refining the track in a studio on Saratoga Lake. He went through a succession of musicians in pursuit of the sound he had heard on the original. One bump in the road came when he tried to identify the brassy, rhythmic bleat that drives much of the song. He consulted a bunch of well-heeled musicians and all seemed to agree it was a bass saxophone. But when Joe brought in a couple of top-notch players, they couldn’t exactly reproduce the part. Deciding that it couldn’t be a sax at all, but something more mysterious, Glickman contacted Max Crook, Shannon’s longtime keboardist and cowriter.

“That’s me on the Musitron,” Crook replied over the phone from New Mexico, referring to the vanguard synthesizer he had built and used on numerous tracks in the ’50s and ’60s. “But how can I reproduce the part?” wondered Joe. “I’ll play it for you if you want,” Crook offered. Glickman was thrilled: His pursuit of perfection had scored him the genuine article. The two exchanged tapes via mail, and Crook, Shannon’s invaluable sideman, became Glickman’s as well. (Crook also appears in the video and will play the show tomorrow night, as will another Shannon sideman, Scott Ludwig.)

In a parallel development, Glickman also got the song on to a Shannon tribute album. The project is still in the works, but the current track listing (at www.
deltribute.com) includes people such as Frank Blank, the MC5’s Wayne Kramer, Urge Overkill’s Nash Kato, the Guess Who’s Randy Bachman . . . and Joe Glickman (as “Joe G. & the Zippity Doo Wop Band, featuring Max Crook”).

It’s quite a musical adventure for a budding 26-year-old filmmaker, who realized his destiny at 9, when he first saw the mid-’80s TV show Crime Story. It was a doubly fortuitous viewing: 1) It was the first time he had heard “Runaway,” which happened to be the show’s theme; and 2) The program would periodically air behind-the-scenes clips. “They’d be running down the street with movie cameras and stuff. At that point I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.”

His first career move was to relentlessly call the production company involved with the show until Glickman, still a kid, was finally granted a personal phone audience with producer Michael Mann, who graciously talked to him for a couple of minutes, telling him that, no, he couldn’t work on the set (“a little young”) but to keep pursuing his dreams. “The next thing you know,” Glickman remembers, “I’m getting autographs and posters in the mail from all of the cast members.”

The show’s period, the early ’60s, resonated so strongly with Glickman that for the first time in our conversation, the usually practical Glickman gets a little, well, astral: “It almost seemed like an old memory to me. It was like something old was coming back to me—like I was reincarnated and this was just a reminder of what I used to enjoy.”

In school, life was tough for a reincarnated kid with a single-minded intent to be a filmmaker. At 14, he lied about his age and worked on the set of an indie film in Troy as a production assistant. By the time he had transferred from a Catholic school to South Colonie High, Glickman says, “It was like I lived in 1955 and had time-traveled to 1992. Looking around, I felt like an alien.” Academically bored, socially clashing and wanting to jump-start his film pursuits, he did some research and found that home-schooling was a legal alternative.

At the time, he was working long hours on the film shoot. “After 12 hours of doing that and having to go to school, I’m thinking, ‘Well geez, one of these has got to go . . . and it’s not going to be filmmaking.” With his grandmother in tow, Glickman presented his school superintendent with documentation from his research, gave his “two-week’s notice” and was off to pursue his own curriculum. “I started teaching myself,” he claims.

Apparently, much of that curriculum was film-based, for in a few years’ time he had talked his way on to several New England film sets as a stills photographer, capturing the visages of low-rung celebrities like Morgan Fairchild, Jack Wagner, John Schneider and Billy Ray Cyrus. (You also might have caught a brief-but-distinct glimpse of Glickman, playing a photographer, in a scene from Seabiscuit.) He currently also supplements his living with photography and video editing.

But Glickman still, to this day, bucks at the notion of a traditional or “holistic” education. “I already knew what I needed to know, and my theory has always been, ‘If you know what you’re going to be, learn it.’” It’s a typical Glickmanism, the kind of rhetoric that makes him come off like a fiercely driven, single-minded character from an old American novel. But hasn’t anything else ever entered the picture?
Hasn’t he ever wanted to be something besides a filmmaker?

Harkening back to Crime Story, he confesses, “There was a little period of time when I wanted to be a detective.”

The video premiere of “So Long Baby” is tomorrow (Friday, Sept. 24) at 8:30 PM at the Saratoga Music Hall. Admission is $10. Joe G. & Band, featuring Max Crook and Scott Ludwig, will play a set of Del Shannon tunes. Some of the proceeds will go toward the publication of Goddesses Don’t Buy Green Bananas, a photo essay on women with cancer, in which Jody Westover, Shannon’s late daughter, appears.


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