Rick Berlin

Photo: Rick Berlin

Photo: Rick Berlin

photo: Evan Scales

photo: Evan Scales

From a review by Ted Drozkowski in The Boston Phoenix (Boston’s now defunct principal alternative newspaper):

“Rick Berlin is a giant on the Boston music scene. His colorful songwriting and strong stage presence have influenced countless other artists since the early 1970s, when his innovative band Orchestra Luna harnessed a potent blend of theater and music years before the Tubes. Throughout the decades and the shifting fortunes of the business Rick has continued to make music with intelligence and integrity, building an international reputation around his knotty, singular piano playing, straight-from-the-heart singing and a style of character-based songwriting that’s drawn favorable comparisons to the likes of Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen— although Rick rocks more than both. . . . Rick’s still busy creating. . . . Rick with The Nickel & Dime Band’s Always on Insane (2012) When We Were Kids (2014) is with a full, intense, rocking 8-piece band.”

As requested by my Episcopal Academy classmates about my 'world' for a 1963 Class reunion:

Love my job as a waiter at Doyle’s Café in Jamaica Plain. It’s weird. After all the money my parents spent on college and on EA. Plus a full scholarship to the Yale Drama School and the Yale Architecture School—neither of which ‘did it’ for me, and both of which I ultimately declined. Now I wait tables. Never the same night twice. I finally consider myself to be primarily an artist—a songwriter who is good at his craft, is original, whose songs tell the truth emotionally and reach people in their hearts. I’m lucky to have this sublimating resource. This is not a weekend warrior fantasy, it is more than anything else who I am. I’m not a success. I’ve made no CEO any $ from my work, but I am good at it—convincing. I love every aspect of the work.

photo: Evan Scales

There’s been too many bands to count, but I’d say my favorite of all is The Nickel & Dime Band. There’s 8 of us, and among them is my nephew, Sam (trombone) which is remarkable since his mom, my sister Lisa was in my very first band, Orchestra Luna.
I also started and stopped an unfinished documentary about Jamaica Plain (where I’ve lived on an off for the last 30 years). Shot and I edited over 60 interviews with people of all ages and stripes in this most diverse and progressive neighborhood.” Many of these, as well as countless music videos, can be seen on YouTube.

Lastly I’d mention that I’m among a group of us here in the hood that have started and continue to present annually the Jamaica Plain Music Festival, which features 20+ bands and performers, all of whom must include artists who live and/or work here in JP.”

Mostly who I am is in the songs I’ve written. And those essentially derive from my feelings and observations about those I care about. Boys, family, encounters, etc. I think I’ve become, to a certain extent, unaware of me—the résumé of where I’ve been and what I’ve done. But I never forget whom I’ve loved. Their face. The sound of their voice. How they’d argue. The fault lines where we were unable to connect.

Afraid of death?

I love life. I hope death doesn’t hurt. I hope I’m not kept on tubes and pills when near The End. I hope I’m in some sort of home hospice with as many of those I love and have loved around as can stand to be around me. I don’t think I’m scared of leaving, but like Woody Allen says: “I’m not afraid of death, I just don’t wanna be there when it happens.”

photo: Evan Scales

photo: Evan Scales

Rick Berlin - The Interview by AJ Wachtel (The Noise) 2016

There Is A Light That Never Goes Out: Old Stag In BADVILLE - blog by Jonathan Perry's Life In Analog

Sounds Around Town (Ed Symkus)

SCRAPBOOK VIDEO    Watch Part I     Watch Part II

Weird Chronology:

My parents partied with Bette Davis AND Groucho Marx (but not at the same time). Mom died of cancer. Dad died (like all the “greats”) vomiting into his lungs on Christmas Eve. He came to me in a dream, stood across a quiet river, smiling, and waved “good-bye.” I woke up knowing he’d gone.

1943 My Uncle Carl Kinscherf, who played football for the NY Giants, set the record for most punts in a single game. It stood for decades.

1945 Born Richard Gustave Kinscherf III, Sioux City, Iowa.

1957 I got to shake hands with Richard Nixon. (Weak grip—soft, clammy, cold.)

1962-63 Ran both the junior and senior class proms at EA. Should have known then how I would “turn out.”

1967 Talked my way into graduating from Yale (BA Pre-Architecture, American Studies, Whiffenpoofs) even though I’d failed two consecutive classes in German. They let me get away with this so I could accept a full scholarship to the Yale Architecture School. Never went. Hated architecture after one meth-addled summer designing toilets for Vincent Kling & Associates (designers of Christ Chapel on EA’s Merion campus). Rejected by Peace Corps.

1968 Taught special class in Moosup, Connecticut public school system. Quit.

1969 Taught English and photography at Whitman School in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Got fired. Dropped acid before physical exam for the draft. Rejected, 4F.
1970 Accepted to Yale School of Drama—I know, Yale, Yale, Yale—with a full scholarship. Left there to make a drug-addled movie about the Apocalypse in Grenada. Smart move, right? Dropped out. Auditioned for Jim Steinman’s musical Neverland. Wrestled with Richard Gere.

1971 Spent three months making the movie in Grenada, West Indies. I “rode” a tree, as if it was a 4-dimensional bike, while I tripped on acid. That was before all 35 members of the cast and crew were thrown in jail for nudity. We got out, miraculously. (Long story.)

1972 New Haven, Connecticut. Worked in porno bookstore, started writing songs.

1973 Formed band called “Orchestra Luna” in Boston. Met Danny Fields, shopped demos in NY City. Performed at Frank Zappa’s 10th Anniversary party with Patti LaBelle and Patti Smith. I rudely asked Patti Smith and Lenny Kaye stop their sound check so we could have ours (not having a clue about who they were), and Frank rushed the stage, picked up guitar player, Randy Roos, (the kid is Very Short) and hugged him in mid-air. Rubbed elbows with Andy Warhol, Lance Loud, Jane Friedman, Susan Blond, Peter Berlin. Opened for Weather Report, Roxy Music, Split Endz. Began dropping names.

1974 Orchestra Luna is signed by Epic Records. Released eponymous debut album. Springsteen, the Eagles, Linda Rondstadt join CBS. Orchestra Luna is dropped.

1976 Orchestra Luna II is formed, including Karla DeVito. Band becomes regulars on NY City’s CBGB’s scene with Talking Heads, Ramones, Blondie, Television, etc. Seymour Stein (Sire Records) offers O.L. a $100,000 contract. Band rejects offer, feeling they could do better. They couldn’t.

1977 Orchestra Luna performs at Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C. with Ellen Foley in Jim Steinman’s production of Neverland. The band showcases for labels at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, NY City. All labels pass. Rick breaks his foot. Karla DeVito leaves to join Meatloaf. Orchestra Luna disintegrates.

1978 New band called “Luna” is formed, has hit single “Hooray for Hollywood.” Rick changes last name to Berlin. (No one can spell Kinscherf.)

1979 Luna is offered deal by Steve Popovitch at Cleveland International/Epic. Band’s former producer gets greedy, refuses to release the recording rights for less than $100.000. Deal fizzles, as does Luna.

1981 New band, “Berlin Airlift,” has major success on Boston radio with “Over The Hill” and “Don’t Stop Me From Crying.”

1982 Ron Alexenberg signs Berlin Airlift to Handshake/CBS Records. Band releases eponymous debut album. Six weeks later Handshake declares bankruptcy, album dies in infancy. Rick writes quasi-autobiography titled KamiKazi. At the Hit Factory in NYC, rides the elevator (at separate times) with Yoko Ono and Stevie Nicks (tiny women). Doesn’t say a word.

1983 Berlin Airlift opens for J. Geils Band holiday tour. Releases six-song EP called “Professionally Damaged,” featuring “Hunger Strikes,” which becomes number one local song of the year on Boston’s WBCN.

1984 Berlin Airlift crashes to earth. Rick writes The Kingdom, a stage/movie musical about a whacko cult in Vermont and a boy with magic powers. Disney passes, saying “It’s not family.”

1985 Yet another new band, “Rick Berlin—The Movie.”

1986 Teaches drama and songwriting at Boston Technical High School. Co-created “Boston For The World,” an ill-fated attempt to raise funds for the homeless through concert and event promotions.

1987 Rick Berlin—The Movie has a hit with “Rock ‘n’ Roll Romance” which wins Rick Indie Songwriter of the Year at the Boston Music Awards. Writes a true song (“Man in Flames”) about a homeless man who, in the apartment building of a friend, accidentally set himself on fire and burned to death as the friend helplessly called 911. Was asked at a solo show to never ever play that song again.

1989 “The Movie” ends its run. Rick begins working as a waiter at Doyle’s (an Irish bar in Jamaica Plain. Writes a screenplay/murder mystery called I Never Loved a Man.

1990 New band, “Rome Is Burning.” By now a lot of managers and musicians have been chewed up.

1991 “Rome” burns to the ground. Rick begins solo career. Starts recording new material with former band mate Chet Cahill producing. Appears 47 times as informed bohemian citizen on local PBS affiliate WGBH talk show called “The Group.”

1992 Shot no-budget video of new song, “Two Drunks Dancing.” Wins 2nd Prize in The Boston Phoenix video poll. Worked for Clinton/Gore campaign headquarters, Boston, answering the phone.

1993 New eleven-song recording of solo effort distributed to everyone in Rick’s phone book.

1993-95  Forms The Awful Truth with Chet Cahill, Beth Harrington & Chris Mehl. Records 'Half In The Bag' at Chet's house with Chris co-producing.

1994-95 Performs monthly at Don’t Tell Mama in NYC. Plays at Gay Pride in ‘94 & ‘95. On the pier. Follows cast of Angels In America. Verrry quiet afterwards.

1994-2003 Performs 9 years (432 Monday nights) at Jacque’s Cabaret in Bay Village—the oldest drag bar, with the oldest drag queens, in the country. Big hands, big feet. Canceled only 2 shows. Picks up showbiz tips from the Old Rimma Rama herself, Sylvia Sydney.

1995 Dreams up/organizes 1st Annual “Drags Dicks & Dykes 4 Life” event at Jacque’s. (20 bands, 14 Queens, etc.). Raises $1 grand for AIDS Action Committee.

1995 Goes Abroad. High-school pigeon Frawnsaaay. Encounters real-life KGB-type PoliceBoy at Radost Cafe, in Prague.

1996 2nd Annual “Drags Dicks & Dykes 4 Life” at Quest. (40 bands, more Queens, etc.). Raises $3.3 grand for AIDS Action Committee.

1996 Records Live @ Jacque’s five Mondays in a row.

1997 Writes Go For It Girl about trip abroad. Who could have predicted that nobody wants to publish the genius novella?

1998 Berlin dreams up “Rock ‘n’ Roll Romance Revival.” They overtake local clubs with diverse local artists for one brief bracing ride. Berlin fakes it up w/ phoney company— ControlFreakInk: Produces variety show, “Marlene Loses It at the Lizard” (Lounge). Jugglers jiggle, tap dancers don’t show up, magicians flame out, Flamencos spin and clack, comedians laugh at their own jokes, teen, bald spoken word performers get their face in the Boston Globe, independent movies are shown on sheets. GarageDog Records releases “RickBerlinLIVE@ Jacque’s” Rick pushes/sells his own record like crack out of a backpack.

1999 Sick of watching other people hog the klieg lights (and many horrible band names later), “The Shelley Winters Project” (SWP) breaks the bubbly over the bow and begins recording with David Minehan at Woolly Mammoth.

2002. 1 baby, 3 drummers, 2 bass players and 2 violinists later, the CD is complete. Sign with Windjam and play all over the place. Bill Anderson (film maker) follows band around like a bloodhound and begins rough cut of “Lightbulb in a Dark Room”—a docudrama about Berlin’s endless kareer and SWP in all her glory.

2003 SWP gets ugly passport photos, washes her hands (SARS—thinks about China) and opens in a ballpark for The B52s. Shelley Winters (herself) calls Berlin from LA (his teeth hit the floor). She was frail, but unforgettably sweet and funny. “What sort of theater group is this?” she asked. “Well, Shelley, it’s actually a band.” “Oh, I see. That’s the nicest thing I’ve heard in weeks,” she said. She died a few months later. Back in Woolly Mammoth for SWPII.

2004 SWP (the band) in a coma. Berlin mixes up last gasp CD (“Forced to Swallow”), but doesn’t know what to do with it. Records new solo CD (Me & Van Gogh, piano and voice only). Stages MoveOn.org benefit (“Boston Tea Party 2—Drum Beat Around the Bush”) at the Milky Way one day after the Democratic Convention. Raises $6 grand. Continues inevitable housework and changing of wallpaper in all inappropriate areas.

2005 Learns to use Final Cut Pro video-editing software, interviews 50 locals for 2008 documentary entitled Jamaica Plain-Spoken (Un-Gated Community in the 21st Century?).

2006 Releases Me & Van Gogh. Hot ink all over the place. Out of control CD release @ the Lizard Lounge with 40 friends choosing one song of his from forever backwards. Video of this on YouTube (type in “Rick Berlin” and scroll endlessly).

2007 Finishes new CD, Old Stag. Disparate elements (ambient sounds from Centre St, backup vox by Sand Machine, phenomenal string arrangements by Brendan Cooney) woven into a smooth, breath-taking collection. No matter how ya cut it, Berlin is beside himself over this record. Big show at an honest-to-God church in Porter Square—Low Anthem, Billy Hough, The Cello Chicks, The Emperor Norton’s Stationary Marching Band, Hula Hoop Girls—staged by Berlin and Billy Beard. Drunks in church. A gorgeous night of “prayer.”

2008 The Jamaica Plain-Spoken documentary heats up and then slows down. Waste critical time trying to write grant applications to ivory tower idiots (“welfare for scholars,” as a friend put it). The more we wrote the less we loved the project. All clips are available on YouTube. They stand best on their own. Crushing them into a short or a feature felt grossly inadequate. We gave up. We did have a bang up fundraiser at Spontaneous Celebrations and paid ourselves back for the money spent. We love Jamaica Plain. Always will, but we can’t film her. She is too beautiful to be summed up or stuffed into a doc pocket.
Sent money on a regular basis to Obama. Ecstatic he won after 8 long years of cynicism and near fear. Love the guy—the best president in my lifetime. How lucky we are to have him. May he live long and prosper.

2009 “You still work here?” Berlin still gets that question as he bobbles his bee-hive-with-pencil around Doyle’s. It’s been at least 24 years there for him. He loves the place, the soap opera, his dear compatriots. Begins writing/blogging “paragraphs” —Berlin’s art-for-the-day pieces that capture small scraps of life and observation.
Also begins recording Paper Airplane with all the greatest players this town has ever seen. Berlin stays off the piano (Jane Mangini – Trans Siberian Orchestra—settles for 6 notes on a toy piano, but makes up for it by cutting 8 awesome videos for the record-to-be.

2010 Berlin becomes a Facebook whore; tries to Tweet (a total amateur). The Paper Airplane train begins to move out of the station and accelerate. He has big help from friends who understand web proliferation. He wants more than a fart-in-the-wind for this CD. Up to his ass in secretarial, hamster-on-treadmill, do-it-yourself publicity. Releases Paper Airplane on October 16th @ the Lizard Lounge.

2011 Meets Ricky Mclean at the Brendan Behan. Forms “Rick Berlin w/ The Nickel & Dime Band.” Plays weird, wild shows and rehearse in my living room. For sure my best and happiest band EVER. My nephew plays trombone. His mom (my sister Lisa Kinscherf) was in Orchestra Luna. Full circle.

2012 Co-produces first annual Jamaica Plain Music Festival. Mom & Pop, Corner Store musician/artists from the hood with Shamus Moynihan, Margie Nicoll, Ferris Mueller, Justin McCarthy, Charlie McEnerney. Wild, extraordinary, beautiful event. No egos present. 2016 will be our 6th Annual. Records Always On Insane (AOI) (which we seem to be). The band opens for Dr. Dog at the Boston House of Blues. We feel Very Important and also win the crowd in seconds. Release AOI .

2013 Tour the planet. Radiohead opens for us.

2014 Release When We Were Kids (Teenage Heart Records) Produce 4th Annual JPMusic Festival

2015 Did TedXJP with Shamus Moynihan. Not easy. Did ok. Record Badville EP at Verdant Sound with Pete Weiss producing. Shoot videos.

2016 Release Badville. Publish my first book ever, THE PARAGRAPHS in November on CUTLASS PRESS

2017 Record and release (September 9) THE COURAGE OF THE LONELY. Play the JP MUSIC FESTIVAL same day!