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Vanilla Bean, Rest In Peace

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From: Scott Williams

Arriving here in the mid-90's, I only knew Bean's legendary years on the air as just that - legend. I always saw Frank as a living link to the fabled Old 'FMU. When I met him, during the Price is Beans era, I was really struck by what an inspiring, welcoming, enthusiastic... and truly gonzo guy he was. He oozed mischief and kept me on my toes, and I loved it. As recently as last week, he was presenting himself as "Anwar Sadat" when coming in to volunteer!

As you know, Frank's been suddenly very active with us recently. 3 or 4 days as week, he's been stopping in after work (just across the street). I was really excited to see him getting involved again - over 4 years, I've gotten to know him personally rather well and I was eager to hear him return to the air.

Frank & I took to each other well very soon after meeting - and that was fully his doing. A few years back, I was looking for work - suddenly The Bean calls me at home. I felt I barely knew the guy - but he knew I needed help, so he was there with it. I was flabbergasted by the genuine humanity that went along with the imp. (as an absurd, and somewhat Beanish sidenote: I never got that job... and the management there ended up in jail for embezzlement!)

My heart really breaks for Frank's daughter Zoe. 'Round '98 or so, Frank was bringing her to 580 Springdale on weekends, and she & I became fast pals - not that I could get any work done with a 5-year-old literally clinging to my leg everywhere I went! She called me "Stork" - just because she knew it pissed me off. Soon, the real Stork started hanging out as well - so I became simply "Dork". Methinks The Bean lives on.

-Scott

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From: Glen Jones

hello

irwin sent out a blanket obit style email to the staff and i saw it last night. i cursed. i cried and then i got mad at him. it is absolutely terrible. i loved frank and neglected to answer an email of his from a few weeks ago. i am honored that he had mentioned me as a friend to you. i'm glad he knew that. i want to do something for him on air but for once in my broadcast life i am at a loss. the live record fair remote is today and most of the music is pulled and packed. perhaps if i can free up some airtime at a later date you can contribute to a radio tribute. it may sound shallow but he had radio in his blood and that is what i would want somebody to do. my thoughts are with you and those who knew frank better than i.

peace
glen

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From: Vartkes B.
Date: Sat, Nov 10

I wasn't aware of Frank's passing until I heard it mentioned on the air just yesterday afternoon. I was thrown for a loop... I was at the record fair on Friday and left before he got there, although I considered staying later for the express purpose of seeing Frank, who had volunteered for the evening shift. I'm sorry I didn't get to see him one last time...

Some personal recollections-

I met Frank at the station when we were both auditioning for an air slot, in 1981. He was warm and open, and I felt immediately comfortable conversing with him. We both started our shows around the same time, but while it took me years to finally find my voice, Frank hit the ground running. He relished every on-air moment, using the ether as the canvas on which he kept throwing down ideas, which he shaped and expanded as he progessed toward a yet-unfolding picture. It was always a pleasure to listen to him, knowing that at any moment anything could happen.

One of several highlights is the time he was free-associating, during which he went on about Gary Carter (of the Mets) and Ivory soap, made even funnier since at that moment I was taking a shower!

The bean also MC'd a couple of my marathon shows, and I was glad to have his upbeat personality to bounce off of.

Of course, his enthusiasm also extended to the music, and I will always think of him when listening to records that he recommended I check out. We can console ourselves knowing that he apparently was in an optimistic state of mind, feeling that things were going to improve for him, and that this was the energy he took with him to the afterlife.

-Vartkes

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From: FaBio

Subject: Re: Frankie Dancer. r.i.p.

Hi -

I had not seen Frank for a quite a while, maybe a year and a half at least. And then, just a few weeks ago, I got to the station a little early to do my show and seemingly out of nowhere, there he was in the office doing some work. The funny thing is that exactly the same thing happened to me - I went to shake his hand, and then he said, "hey, give me a hug." And it was really great to see him. He seemed in good spirits and retained quite a bit of his usual wit. We talk for a while. He told me a bit about his recent passed and then about things coming up and how he was looking forward to getting involved with the station again. It felt really good to talk to him. And I was thinking that it would be great to have him on the air again at some point, because at his best, he was one of the most engaging, funniest, and sharpest programmers I ever had the pleasure of listening to on the radio.

It is indeed very sad.

Fabio

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From: Robert Weisberg
Sent: Sunday, Nov 04, 2001 7:43 AM

One of my clearest memories of my early days at FMU, Frank cutting up at a staff meeting in Froeburg hall... the class clown, the mischief-maker, always seeking attention, often getting into trouble, but foremost a really really nice, sweet, friendly guy. And the guy who found me my first decent job (well, a slightly indecent job actually) in NY, for which I am forever indebted.

Rob W

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From: Diane Kamikaze WFMU

Stevie-
Hi-
I cannot believe it. I saw Frank at the Record Fair on Friday. He looked really good and seemed in good spirits. I was not at the fair on Saturday, but as soon as I arrived on Sunday I heard the shocking news. He was a good guy, and it was great to see him on Friday since it had been so long, and I was glad to see him start popping up at the station a bit here and there.

A number of people on the staff list have been commenting on the loss of him as a great person and talented on-air personality. If it helps you to write a note to staff on your feelings about it, please do, I think staffers would be glad to hear from you. I know I am, sorry it's such sad circumstances.

Best-
Diane

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From: Bronwyn C.

This is such an incredible shock.

About a year after I arrived in NYC, before I had ever met anyone at FMU, I was listening to his show when he called a phone sex place live on the air and had the girl call him Elvis - etc. - He got suspended for that. It was inspired. I can think of many such moments - was always a big fan of his show - jeez. Jeez.

-B.

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From: Dan Mackta

When I was growing up, the Vanilla Bean, along with a couple of other 'FMU dj's of the 80s (some still with us, some not), clued me into the power of radio as an art form and as a means of communication.

"Larry and Mookie", although silly, was one of my absolute favorite things to listen to. I remember hassling those guys with silly phone calls and trying to be like them, or at least what I imagined they were like.

I could never hope to be able to imbue what I do on the radio with the same kind of creativity as the Bean, but there is no question that he is among the major factors that inspired me to dream of being on the air.

Dan

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From: Meredith Ochs

i didn't know frank as well as those of you who were at the station for most of the '80s.  but when i moved back to the area and started listening to fmu, his show was one of the reasons i kept tuning in, and one of the reasons i got involved in the station.  his choice of music was great, his banter was great, and when i called to make a request, he was not only obliging but genuinely nice.

later on, when i got to know him a little, he was encouraging to me as a newcomer, and always an engaging conversationalist.  i knew him to be troubled, yet he always conveyed the hope that things would get better.  i was shocked to hear of his death yesterday and i'm so sad -- both for him and for his family, especially his daughter.

m.

meredith ochs
cd reviews editor
guitar world
p.o. box 2047
hoboken, nj 07030

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From: joe belock

Like others who are relatively new here (5 or so years) have already posted, Frank was always very nice and encouraging upon first meeting him. Then a little while after that, I was interim music director at my old station and he was working with some record company (Brooklyn Music, or something? anyone remember what that was?) He'd leave some rambling message that was miles more entertaining than anything that was going on over those airwaves, and as I would repeat them at loud volume on the answering machine, the people that worked at the college (Centenary College) would walk by and shake their heads. I can't remember what the records were or what he was saying, but it, like anything I heard him do over the air, was great.

rock on, Joe

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From: Braun, Pseu
Subject:    Condolences

Hi Krys and Stevie-

Just wanted to drop a note to you guys to express my sympathy on Frank's passing. Along with Yourselves, Irwin and Jim Price, Vanilla Bean figured into my earliest recollections of gleefully tuning into WFMU. Last year he and Zoe (and her furbee) came up to my show for no reason in particular, just to visit. He seemed very content but told me he was addressing getting himself together. I wasn't sure what that really meant at the time but I have a clearer understanding now.

He was one of the Greats of FMU and he will be missed.

Best,
Pseu Braun

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From: Doug Schulkind

Frank Balesteri is the reason I'm at FMU. Back in the spring of '87, I screwed up the courage to call the Vanilla Bean on the phone during this breathtaking show he was perpetrating. He was spinning South African discs while raving about apartheid over, under, and between records. He also was reading news clippings and chanting poetry and it was hugely inspiring.

During that phone call with Frank, he found the time to talk with me about radio in general and WFMU in particular and the freedom he had to say and play anything. He found the time to ask me about what I dug about radio and, when I told him I did radio in college, he warmly encouraged me to call the station manager and gave me the number to reach the WFMU office. I called Ken the next day and came down to the station a few days after that.

Five or six years ago Frank arrived home from a business trip and stepped in to a nightmarish situation with his family. Within hours of discovering this, though, Frank still rushed down to the station to be the MC on my Marathon show that morning. Unsurprisingly, he came up with another virtuoso performance -- his familiar hash of nonsequitors, rants, hilarious word play, heartfelt sincerity, song-lyric quoting, etc. -- all the while personally devastated and full of grief. It was astonishing.

During that Marathon show, I thanked Frank for being so encouraging to me years earlier, and he just shrugged it off and started running through the list of Marathon tchotchkes.

Doug S.

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From: Andy Waltzer

When I started at the station, I felt very shy and awkward and mostly kept to myself- until I encountered Frank. I sorta thought of him as the classic "bad influence" (which is of course far cooler then a "good influence"). Once I even dreamed that I was Oliver and he was Fagan. I remember how he loosened me up so much before a marathon show (ok, him and some funny cigarettes) that we started rapping on air....it's the only time I've heard pledges being taken back. But it was one of the most fun and free broadcasts I've ever done, and it fulfilled my dream of just losing all inhibition on the radio. I remember twice being suspended the same week as him- and I'd go to the record store in Montclair to hang out with him, feeling a kinship. I'm really sad for his daughter and the folks who will feel his absence. Wish I could come out from MN for the wake....I'm there in spirit, that's for sure.  -Andy Waltzer

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From: small change

Frank was a lil' before my time as well, but I do remember hanging out with him on the Sunday night of the last marathon in east orange, where he took a cell phone to report on the large building fire happening nearby--very surreal. He was hilarious though, sort of a roving reporter on crack, with quicked witted comments and questions that made the firemen on the scene laugh.

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.

$?

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From: Brian Turner

I didn't know Frank that well, but was well aware of his legacy. When I came aboard the station, my first experience with the Price and Beans show was seeing a mic cord strung down the stairs of the old E.Orange house and to find one of the show's hosts frying bacon while the other stayed in the studio commenting. Another time it was amazing to see him and Jim Price at the record fair using a vacated Sunday table to simply stand there dressed up with bowls of water placed carefully in line on the table, attracting cranky scowls from dealers. The last time we really chatted was a year ago, when he stopped by to see about getting back involved, and that actually started a few weeks ago as he was volunteering. It's really sad, sad news and I hope his daughter has a good backline of love and support. I hope we can compile some great moments and get some good retrospective radio happening.

bt

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From: Margaret Harris

Vanilla Bean

In a strange way, I owe a lot to Frank (I can hear him in my head laughing at that statement.). My husband Dan and I met at an FMU benefit at Maxwell's back in '91. Dan had gone specifically to catch up with Frank, whom he hadn't seen in a while. Frank wasn't there….but I was.

Frank and Karen came to our wedding, Zoe a tiny infant in their arms. (A special Bean moment captured on video: Frank "Vogueing" to Madonna's song!) The next day, we were opening gifts and came to the one from Frank and Karen. Inside a large box was a set of eight ceramic canisters, each baring a phrase; "Freudian Slips", "Unsolicited Advice". Within each canister was a surprise; candy, money, his & her silk underwear (the boxer shorts sporting baseballs, of course!). It was the most fun gift we had received…and of course it had come from Frank. Just two months ago I took these canisters out of their original box and put several on the kitchen counter; "Comic Relief", "Spice of Life". How ironic that they sum up a bit of what Frank was about.

Frank came to our wedding and sadly we went to his wake – many years too soon. One could picture Frank as an 80-year-old man in a baggy cardigan, still with that cat-that-ate-the-canary smile on his face…and one more wisecrack to make. Seems that's how it should have been.

Condolences to his daughter Zoe, to Frank's parents and family and to everyone who is feeling the pain of loss at this time.

Margaret

(I miss you guys!)

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From: Dan Cooney
A Beautiful Bean

I would like to share two stories about Frank that those who knew him well can visualize. Back in the 80's, Frank stopped by my house to borrow a Konk album. He stayed for an hour or so and we discussed the usual topics; wine, women, song and baseball. After an hour or so Frank informed me he was on his way to the Poconos for the weekend and we said our good-byes.

About a half hour later, I happen to look out my front window and much to my surprise see Frank across the street leaning over the fence of my neighbor's home and picking their flowers! As I watched in amazement he continued to yank the flowers from their well-tended garden and gingerly arrange them into a small bouquet. I can still see the thoughtful expression on his face as he painstakingly arranged each flower, selectively discarding some and picking new ones to replace them. I'm sure there's a whole other story involving who was to receive the bouquet.

My second story involves a cold, crisp Poconos night with Frank. We were staying at his parents' house and decided to take a walk deep into the heart of the woods, around ten o'clock in the evening. I was experiencing some personal problems at the time and Frank was trying to joke and talk me through it. He invited me to join him in some primal screaming at the nighttime sky. For about fifteen minutes we screamed at the top of our lungs at the moon and stars above. It was exhilarating.

I will always be thankful that I had the opportunity to call Frank my friend. Peace be with you, buddy.

Love, Dan

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From: David Mandl
Subject: Re: Frank Balesteri, 41

Jim is on the staff list, so maybe he can shed some light on this.

I just saw Jim a couple of weeks ago and it just so happens we talked about the Bean for a while. He'd been in touch with Jim recently and seemed to be doing "better." But I'll let Jim do the talking (if he feels like it).

This is very very sad. Frank was such a sweet guy. He also did a lot of WFMU's best programming of all time, no question about it.

      --D.

On Sun, 4 Nov 2001, faBio wrote:
Is this for real? He was just at the station a few weeks ago and seemed fine. What the hell happened to him? Has anyone spoken to some of his close friends yet - Jim Price or Stevie Moore?

Fabio

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From Jeff Cobb

i'm really sorry i got this news about frank so late, as my email has been screwy lately...i hope the service honored him as he deserved.....i went into crazy rhythyms when i first came back from california, back in '93, where a really nice guy commented on my kfjc tshirt....we chatted, and i told him that since i moved back to nj i was going to get a show on wfmu (a little cocky, considering i hadnt even been to the station yet)...imagine my chagrin when i found out it was the bean, who i just listened to the night before, though he was sweet as pie telling me exactly how to get to the station and who to talk to when i did.....my first regular show (fri? late night) followed his, and it was always fun to scramble for a first song to segue out of his show, because he always went so many places with his music.....he was a model of great freeform radio and a great help to me in my early days at the station, with his music suggestions and his unabashed tales of the fmu of yore....i shudder at some of the things i've read in terms of his hardship, and i'm sorry that he seemed to be on a good path too late....i hadn't seen too much of him in recent years, but when i did it was always a pleasure.........a real loss.......

--- Jeffrey Cobb

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From: Amy Brown, Boston MA
Subject: Frank Balesteri: lost and found.

Frank O'Toole and Ken,

I am so sorry to hear of Frank's passing.

I remember Frank from a radio show he did on an obscure little radio station in the Poconos called WVPO. This was in 1980. I was just 15, and stuck in the middle of cornfields and album-oriented rock stations, so you can imagine how much I loved Frank's show. Sadly, I went away from a week and when I came back, Frank had quit. I'd heard that he moved on to Toronto but despite the occasional Web search, I never heard of him again until now.

Weirdly enough, I've listened to WFMU fairly frequently over the years and I had no idea he did a show. I don't know how I managed to miss it but somehow, I did. I am so, so sad to have found him again under these circumstances.

I just checked the archives page and I don't see any of Frank's shows. Please, please let me know if he guested on anyone else's show, or if any of his shows were indeed archived.

Please pass on my condolences and prayerful wishes to anyone who might appreciate it.

Frank's show introduced me to a lot of great music that I wouldn't otherwise have heard. He was the kind of guy who makes an impression for a lifetime.

Thank you,
Amy

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From: Pat James Longo

Something must be said about influence and inspiration when talking about The Bean. My brother and I found ourselves glued to the radio throughout our high school years. I know for a fact I missed many a movie and countless opening acts because we just couldn't stop listening. As we listened our already twisted sense of humor and active imaginations soared.

As you know my Dad was a listener long before my brother and I so it wasn't like the idea of what the Bean was doing was foreign to us, it was different and better. We couldn't wait to hear him get suspended. Then we would go nuts waiting for his return. (I know I cursed you a few times.) When Frank returned to the air he told stories of his divorce and courtroom nitemares, it was as honest as he had been outrageous in the past. Again I found myself unable to turn the radio off. I've never heard anyone be that candid about their personal life on air. Good radio is whatever the dj can make of it. Frank made it great. A few years ago I got to work side by side with Frank. He told stories I heard on the radio in years past. He also told stories he could never tell on the radio. Frank was never contrived, pretentious or boring he was always just Frank. I will miss him. And radio will never be the same. R.I.P.

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Hi Ken,
This is Sean Dinsmore AKA Cavo, a long time friend of Frank's who first met him through WFMU in 1990. At that time I was in a band called Unity 2, and Frank was our biggest cheerleader and supporter in the area. He was really into our music and introduced us to his mentor, Vin Scelsa. He also did great promo for our record at Crazy Rhythms, and had me and my partner, Lionel Bernard on the show a few times. On one of these shows (I'm sure no one will be shocked to find out) we got way off the track and started ranting about everything under the sun - finally getting onto the subject of 'merkens', or pubic wigs. I must admit it was I who introduced the subject, but Frank thought it hilarious and ran with it. I can remember laughing so hard that none of us could even speak for a full minute, and I thought to myself: we're on the radio???

Anyway, it WAS funny, and it WAS spontaneous, and Frankie later told me that he got suspended for it. Oh well, from what I've been reading it wasn't the first time. I just want to say that he was such a talented guy, and his enthusiasm was incredibly contagious! He could walk into any room and be comfortable, no the center of attention within minutes. In Irish terms, you could say he had the gift - the Blarney. Boy did he ever. I really loved the guy, and was always pulling for him to get clean. I'm deeply saddened to hear that he went the other way in the end, because I know he was trying. I guess we all just try our best...

I think also about Frank's parents who were so supportive of him over the years, and his ex-wife Karen, and his remarkably (of course!) precocious and clever daughter Zoe. She should know her father had a heart as big as NYC!

PEACE and R.I.P.,
Sean "Cavo" Dinsmore

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To: Frank O'Toole

hi frank, tom carchia here. been listening since '76 but this is the first i've written . i clearly remember listening to your program on friday or saturday nights in '79 while cruising the party scene in maplewood / south orange (j schnall was also class of   '79 columbia) but i know i must have been listening even earlier than that...your wednesday night programs mid -eighties were part of the greatest line up in wfmu history...i often think about that time because i really miss val and terry. which brings us to now...i cant believe how awful i feel. i guess we are all still emotionally vulnerable anyway but this really breaks my heart. As i said I've been listening since '76 but back then besides you, lou, and that guy john narukie the station kinda sucked (i seem to remember alot of piano torture music on other shows) around '82 or so i was delivering flowers in the afternoons and this was when i became aware of just how great wfmu had become...Frank was truly the greatest radio personality i had ever heard or probably will ever hear...later when i found out he worked at the record store in montclair i had to stop in...i picked up something sure to start a conversation and we hit right off...at the time i was heavy into the on u sound thing and he had worked with and was friends with adrian sherwood he was just getting into the dub thing and i was kinda already there. He invited some friends and myself to a party in hoboken that he was spinning at, and we had a great time listening to stories like the time mark stewart took him to a whiches covenant in salem mass! in september '90 i had a dream come true when i won the airslot that used to be given away at marathon time...of course i called frank and we did a show "listener toms dub bombs"...i lost track of him when he stopped working at the store and the last time i heard him on the air with jim price was absolutely the most excruciating radio i have ever heard (his problems with custody and all) i guess i am sending this to you for the reasons mentioned at the top but i would like to express my sincere condolences to all..

tom carchia

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From: Frank O'Toole
Date: Sun, Nov 11, 2001 3:30am

Hey, I've had a re-occuring thought... don't know how much you know of the Beats, or the Pranksters, but I think of Frank the Bean as a local Neal Cassady. Always rappin', shakin' his knees, and charming the pants offa you.

Tonight, I heard about, and announced the passing of Ken Kesey, and the Bean/Neal thought knocked me on my noggin, again. Hope you cope.

peace.
Frank O

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From: Listener Rick

Ken, Just last week I was thinking how I hadn't heard the Bean in a while. His spontaneous wit and seemingly boundless creativity on air got me hooked on FMU. I was looking forward to hearing him again. My sympathy goes to his friends at the station and everyone who enjoyed listening to him. RM

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