r e m e m b r a n c e s
Vanilla Bean, Rest In Peace
WFMU Message Board
From: Larry & Mookie (rsm)
Date: Sat Nov 3 10:20:44 2001
Subject: GO YANKS!
From: Ken Freedman (station manager)
Frank was the first WFMU DJ I ever heard. In 1980, a listener to my radio show on WCBN in Ann Arbor gave me a tape of a great radio station that I had to hear. The tape was of Frank Balesteri and (I think) Bud Styple having a great time during a WFMU Marathon.
With that, I started listening to FMU every time I came back to NJ to visit family. Frank was on the air 2-3 times a week during that era, making incredible radio and comedy in collaboration with Jim Price, Irwin, R. Stevie Moore and others. It was a brilliant moment in FMU's history and Frank's flame burned bright.
Frank inspired me and many other FMU Djs to lose their inhibitions on the air and trust the magic of the moment. Frank streamed his consciousness on the air for all to hear and it was hilarious, touching and inspiring.
He was trouble also - I had to suspend him several times, and each time it broke my heart a little, cause he WAS the spirit of FMU at the time. At one point I suspended him for four months and when he came back on the air in 1987, he was decidedly more self conscious than before, which broke my heart most of all. Frank was eager to please, probably too eager to please, and in his efforts to steer clear of on-air infractions, he began monitoring himself too closely.
He set up a proofreading company, and it seemed that he was really getting his shit together. Frank always seemed to be trying to get his shit together, and in the very end he truly was. He had been on the straight and narrow for a good long while when he died. The FMU community was very important to him, and he was trying very hard to overcome his troubled past and get back on the air. The halfway house where he had been living had been very hard on him, grounding him, punishing him in various ways, telling him that he was an addict, that he would never be well, and giving him very little in the way of love or positive feedback.
But during these final months he reached out to FMU and I'm happy that we were there for him.
The night he died he volunteered at the front door of the record fair and had lots of great talks with people here. He had an overnight pass from the halfway house and had been trying to use it to see his daughter Zoe in Inwood but that fell through, so he stayed Friday night at the Holland Motor Inn just outside the tunnel. That's where he was found on Saturday.
He spent his last night surrounded by FMU friends, espousing optimism about the future. For the last few months and for the final night, we saw a healthy Frank struggling once again to get his shit together and we were supportive of him in that, so I'm glad we gave him some of the friendship and love he deserved.
He was one of a kind. I hope that the radio tribute we do will fill in the blanks for those of you who didnt hear his brilliance during his heyday.
From: Frank O'Toole
I was with him, at various times during the Record Fair, on Friday night. Upon first seeing him, I shook his hand, and he said "what? I don't get a hug?" I made a joke about making sure that I still had my wallet. Later, at the end of the night, we had a nice 10 minute chat, hugged, and said "don't be a stranger". We left at the same time, he going east, and me, west. jeez.
From: Irene Trudel
I'm sorry I won't be able to attend the wake or funeral for Frank. Peter & I are heading to San Francisco Tuesday. Please pass along my condolences.
A few thoughts. No matter how much time had passed, whenever I would see Frank he'd greet me with, "Hi I!" He was an extremely talented, gifted radio entertainer, one who really knew the value of reaching the listeners through sound, absurdism and comic dialogue. Most memorable early radio memory-- the time he propositioned a female caller on the air (something he got suspended quite a while for).
Most memorable recent radio memories-- nearly every Price is Beans (I have a few on tape-- could we archive these??) Frank was one of the most charming people I've ever met, even though I knew a fair amount of things he told me over the years were total bullshit. At least he was sweet. Jim Price had told me of his downslide in recent years, and I had mentally braced myself to hear of his demise. But when I saw him volunteering at the station a couple of weeks ago I was pleasantly surprised to see him looking so robust and cheerful. He even looked great on Friday night at the record fair. I'm deeply saddened by the loss of such a creative individual.
From: Bob Brainen
I met the Bean in the early 80's when he first came to the station to visit Frank O'Toole, who was his entree' to FMU.
Not too long after that, the Bean was a staff member, and I vividly remember a Marathon all-nighter, when both Franks and I hung out. I thought the Bean was one of the funniest people I ever met/heard. We performed some songs live on the air, and laughed incessantly and greeted the JM people. He was a vivid character.
I saw him through the years, mostly at Crazy Rhythm in Montclair, where he and R. Stevie Moore worked for many years, and where var. FMU folks were employed, here and there.
His radio show, like his life, was a balancing act, and it's impossible for anyone to not fall off the highwire sometimes.
Saturday was the last fall, and tragically, there was no net.
I have memories good and not so good, but that marathon night of long ago stands out.
I didn't see him too much lately, and the thought of not seeing him again is a sad one.
I'll miss him.
From: Monica Lynch
this is a complete shock. he was working the door at the record fair friday night and we had a great chat and rifled through the $1 bin at the wfmu table together. he encouraged me to by an elo album, "face the music" for the track 'fire on high." he was very upbeat, appeared to be in a great state of mind and healthy. said he was working across the street from the station at 30 montgomery and had recently started putting in volunteer time at the station. he was even going to come by and visit this friday afternoon. we'd had some recent email communication too. he was extremely enthusiastic and encouraging and kind and i just can't believe this. i didn't get to hear him much during his most recent stint on 'fmu but he (and jim) had many brilliant moments.
wish i'd been around to hear him in earlier days. as most folks know, he has a young daughter which makes this even sadder. this is tragic.
From: bob rixon
Sent: Sunday, Nov 04, 2001 10:03 AM
That is very sad & painful news. Frank was under a terrible, constant stress for a number of years, enough to physically wreck anyone's heart, as well as breaking it.
"I can't decide if I'm for peace or for one last demolition derby of the spirit."
From: John Schnall
Frank was the person I've probably quoted more than any other person I've ever met; usually one of his program descriptions: "Champaigne for real friends, real pain for sham friends"... and he was so made for radio. He did a stand-up act once, I assume, since he played it on one of his shows, layered over any number of other things, and it was so clear that his percular style of genius really only worked on radio. Hard to explain to folks who didn't really know him just how much we all lost in his passing.
Frank was North Jersey to the core. It was like we went to the same high school, he seemed that familiar from the outset. A decade younger but he knew his Four Seasons, Dion & Rascals.
Sometimes I wanted to knock him on the head & ask, "Hello, who's home in there today?"
He wove elaborate fabrications - one expects that from a real-time performance artist. We were both fictions to some extent, & we knew it. But the unmasked Frank wore his heart on the sleeve of his teeshirt. He took everything personally. He never forgot a favor or an unfair slight. If one gave him the opportunity, he opened up like a bag of microwave popcorn, everything spilling out. A great companion in the record library.
Frank was an authentic genius - improvisory, brilliant, undisciplined, the very spirit of free form. I think he worked best in collaboration. He was good hugger, too.
From: Brian Turner (music director)
Subject: Re: Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll)
Steve, your pix on the message board were deeply touching. My deepest condolences for the loss of your friend. I didn't know Frank that well except for a brief time Price & Beans was on when I started, but seeing that he started re-volunteering here the last couple weeks made me feel glad that he was getting re-involved to an extent and hoped in my mind things were on an upswing for him. I know people around here had the highest respect for the great radio he did. I just wanted to say thanks for posting those pix.
From: William M. Berger
To me, Frank epitomizes everything that I loved about 80s WFMU: the risk-taking, experimentation, the boundary-pushing humor, the not giving a SHIT. Somewhere I have a tape of Frank and I, totally winging it one night, beat records spinning, Frank freestyling out of a sample ad copy book, myself playing bass and punctuating comments as Frank 'testified.' I still chuckle to myself about the version we did of Lenny Bruce's "Signed Uncle Morty" with TKF; we called ourselves the Old Concrete Dwarves.
Frank came to my house in Union once or twice for a jam, typically 2 hrs. late. For some reason, I remember introducing him to one of the cats saying "he has bad breath." Frank replied, "Just smells like cat food." Always forgiving, as he needed to be forgiven himself.
Frank was certainly a lovable and very special man. I'll miss him. Please extend my condolences to the Balesteri family.
From: David Mandl
On Mon, 5 Nov 2001, small change wrote:
Would very much like to seem some retro-radio of some of his shows on the website. Also, Dave Mandl mentioned to me that he transcribed that phone sex/elvis thing in his book on radio, so you might want to check that.
Frank lent me the original tape of that show to transcribe for the book, and I had it for over a year before giving it back. Incredibly stupidly, I never made a copy for myself. But both sides of the tape were filled with absolutely hilarious stuff, most from the very same late-night broadcast. He was just making prank phonecalls all night, including calling a pizzeria and ordering "a long Italian hot dog."
Phone guy: "A long Italian hot dog?"
Bean: "Yeah, and a pair of pants."
I have no idea what that was supposed to mean, but to this day just thinking about it still splits my sides.
That Elvis call is so legendary, and he just had the tape in a stack somewhere with "Pho-nees" written on the label. No date or anything.
From: Michael Jodry
I'm so sorry to hear about Frank. I remember him at Eddies trying to announce through that good Sammy Davis get-up. I was there at the Jetty that night with the two drummers.
-Very talented, very funny and as I see from your page, a good friend.
From: Danny Cooney
i last spoke with frank about a year ago. we spoke about getting together and never followed through. at that time, he told me he was trying to live closer to zoe. i spoke to his brother today and was sad to hear about some of the things frank was battling. margaret had a dream about him and zoe around two weeks ago and lately i've been thinking alot about him and wondering what he was up to. i am thinking about writing a letter to zoe for her to open when she is older. i would like to tell her some stories about her father and how he made me laugh and open my mind to so many ideas. i have never met anyone quite like him. i am hoping that i can somehow get in touch with karen to give her the letter. do you have any info on how to get in touch with karen?
i am trying to get in touch with frank grosso. he bartends at various places in orange. i saw him about a month ago at a wedding in which he brought a pregnant prositute and did tumblesaults across the dance floor. it was sheer poetry.
take care and think of frank and smile
thank YOU! just took a look at your updated photo link and wow! fantastic pix. even if you didn't know the bean at all those pictures say a hell of a lot. frank's generosity of spirit really struck me. it's a great reminder and inspiration to me about what counts in life. given frank's innate sense of absurdity, ya gotta wonder what he'd make of all of us blubbering on about him. if he was doing a farewell b'cast from on high, what would it be like. there just aren't enough frank balesteri's in our midst.
love to you and krys,
From: Harry Palmer
Subject: Re: Frank On Graycroft
Steve.....thanks for all of these......still hard to believe he's gone. But his presence comes thru in all these photos, which makes it all the harder to put it together.
From: chris t
Subject: A Frank Discussion
I'm at the Record Fair Friday night, wrapping up after my show. I decide to go out front for a smoke (yes, I'm addicted again). As I wend my way past the FMU tables and toward the front door I see Frank. "Hey – Frank. How you doing?" He sticks out his right hand, I shake it. "Good to see you, man." he says. I pat him on the shoulder and we step outside together. It's a warm evening. Hardly seems like November.
We light up at the same time, take long drags, blow smoke. "How you been?" I ask. "Good." Frank says. "I'm doing real good." He looks good, too. Clean shaven, trim. Doesn't appear much older than when we met, too many years ago for me to remember. The Vanilla Bean. On the radio talking off the top of his head. That halting way he had, when he was considering what he'd say next. You waited for it. And it was always something that stopped you in your tracks. Something outrageous. Something funny. Something thoughtful.
It's been a long time since we've talked.
"Where are you living these days" I ask him.
"I'm in Jersey City." he says.
"Didja drive in?" I ask.
"Nah. I took the train."
"I'll be doing the same thing. I was hoping someone was going back to Hoboken."
"I'm actually staying in Hoboken tonight." Frank says. "I'm living in Jersey City now. I've been volunteering at the station." he tells me. "Yeah. every day. I'm right across the street, at 30 Montgomery."
"What are you doing?" I ask.
"I'm working for a temp agency. I go to brokers and financial companies. Things have slowed down since..."
Since those buildings came down. Neither one of us has to say it.
"That was some fucked up shit, huh?" I say.
"Yeah. Definitely." he says. Neither one of us wants to talk about it.
"How's your daughter?" I ask.
"Real good. I'm going to be seeing a lot more of her. That'll be cool. Things weren't going too well last year."
"I don't know if you know it but I had a nervous breakdown last year..." he says.
"No. I didn't know..."
"Yeah. Things just got to be too much. I had to... I had to get away. I moved to the Poconos. Just to chill out."
"Yeah. I was at a radio station there."
"Jones told me he heard you..."
"Yeah.. He called me up. And at first I didn't know who it was so I was like, real serious. 'Hello? Yes, this is the DJ.' And then I realized it was him. That was funny."
"So how did it go in the Poconos?"
"Well, about six months ago I almost died."
"What? What happened?"
"I was playing basketball. It was a pickup game and this kid... this kid fouled me. And I went down, hit my head..."
"Yeah. I got fucked up pretty good. They took me to the hospital and patched me up. Then they sent me home. And the next morning my room-mate couldn't wake me up..."
"Yeah. I was out. He had to call an ambulance. They took me back to the hospital and it turns out I had a hematoma. Blood on my brain."
"I was in surgery for eight and a half hours."
"Let me tell you something... there is nothing worse than head pain." Frank waved his hand, down low. "They put me on Percosets."
"Those are heavy-duty, huh?"
"I got hooked on them. At one point I was taking twenty-five a day." he says.
"Shit. Twenty-five a day?"
"Yup. Twenty-five a day. I was very fucked up."
"So what happened?"
"I got into a detox program. I didn't want to fuck up things with my daughter. Because things were bad between me and her mother..."
"Sorry to hear it." I say.
We watch people move in and out of the fair, bags tucked under their arms.
"I'm in a halfway house now...." Frank says. "...over in Jersey City."
"How's that going?" I ask.
"Real good. I'm actually going to be leaving. Things are cool now, with my ex-wife. She's getting remarried and I'm going to live in her house. I'll be able to see Zoe."
"Yeah. It's gonna be great." he says." I'm real happy these days. I had to clean up my act but now I doing good."
"Well, you almost died, man. That'll make you appreciate life..." I say.
"Yeah." He laughs. Our cigarettes are done. I have to get to the PATH train. "So – you gonna be around tomorrow?" I ask.
"Yeah, I'll be around." he says. We shake hands.
"It's good to see you." I say.
"Yeah. Good to see you too." Frank says.
I turn and walk away.
Okay, obviously the dialogue above is not verbatim. I can't remember everything we talked about. Or the sequence. But this is as close as memory serves. To think Frank would be dead twenty-four hours later... it still doesn't register. Not with what I saw.
I've been hearing rumours about what happened since Meredith told me the news Sunday morning. Is it possible Frank swapped his Percoset habit for a painkiller he could obtain sans prescription? Was he still in pain from his head injury? It seems self-evident. It seems.
I'll wait for the truth to come out, as it eventually will. I'm just glad I got to talk to him one more time. I'm glad he was the same Frank I always remembered: laughing, telling jokes, upbeat, friendly.
I'll miss the hell out of him. And my heart goes out to his family.
From: brother Chris Balesteri, East PA
Subject: Shockwave Flashbacks
Once, my mother baked us a cake, while she was out of the house we were busy being good brothers and tossing each other about the kitchen for the final piece of cake. Not one to lose at any cost, Frank spit on the cake and declared, "you won't eat it now". Always the last word.
The film you have (of 2-2-01) is most likely the last footage. Mom and Dad have photos from Halloween 2001 (he and Zoe in Central Park), and I already passed the other copies to Zoe, but I'll pass the others along as soon as I can get them to you and send/scan them.
Thanks for letting me let off a bit, and I hope I shed a bit of insight for you. A couple of hours are still missing, but right now you know as much as I do about 10PM on Friday the 2nd until 12Noon on the 3rd (when he was found).
A detective knew our family and passed the info to a plainclothes, John Foy, whose family are lifelong friends. John then began a huge search for me or my parents, which after miles of driving, ended in a family get together in Nutley. Then Mom and Dad found me and I tracked down Scott.
Thanks again for the amazing website work and thank Krys for me for being there on Tues.
"One of these things First" was one of those songs Frank turned me onto (among the hundreds) that always stuck to both and we loved to listen to Nick Drake together. Same with Pet Sounds, we listened to that a lot this summer. He'd listen to every precious sound Brian Wilson put into that and loved every second of it.
Talk to you soon, much love
From: (R. Stevie Moore)
Date: Mon, Nov 5, 2001, 2:06pm
To: WFMU Staff
Subject: Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll)
Hello to all, thanks for letting me peek into this somber cyber staff-meeting.
Absolutely shellshocked here at HQ.
Krys Olsiewicz and I have TONS to share: current info, photos, theories, videos, airchecks, tidbits, RSM recordings, flashbacks, live gigs, timelines, rants, texts, travelogues, etcetera. We enjoyed 20 tight-knit, up 'n down years with the man; a true brother and soldier. Hoping to gather as much as possible asap. A basic collection of introductory thoughts coming your way in the next day or 3. Could write a small book.
Meanwhile, it's kinda devastating, y'know?
Muchas gracias for your much needed kind words and concerns. Bless you all, young and old. Let it roll.
Love and mercy for his family, Karen and Zoe.