stillmore r e m e m b r a n c e s
Vanilla Bean, Continue to Rest In Peace
--------------b a c k
From: Vin Scelsa
Date: Wed, Nov 14, 2001, 12:36pm
To: R. Stevie Moore
Subject: Thinking about Frank
It wasn't until about three days after I heard of Frank's death (Jonesy had called me with the news) that it really hit me. I was driving down Bloomfield Avenue, passing the old site of Crazy Rhythms, and I saw a guy walking with his young daughter (at least I assumed they were father/daughter) ... and I thought of all the times I used to go in the store with my daughter Kate and how sweet Frank always was with her ... and then thought about how good Frank was whenever I saw him with Zoe, how he brought her to the house a couple of times and what a great little kid she was ... and then the floodgates opened and all the memories poured in. I came home and looked at the pictures on your web site and ... oh, man, this is too sad ...
When Frank was a teenager he worked in a deli (I guess it was in Jersey City). He heard me once on WNEW talking about how I liked deli ham only if it was "shaved" -- cut so thin that it was basically in shreds. So every once in a while he and another kid would be waiting for me on the sidewalk near the entrance to the old WNEW studios on 45th Street, after I got off from doing a show, with a couple of pounds of cold cuts for me, the ham always shredded just the way I liked it. That's how we met. It wasn't until I started hanging at Crazy Rhythms years later that he reminded me of this earlier relationship! He was so generous to me at CR -- special ordering stuff for me, letting me trade in old junk for new junk, turning me on to all the stuff he was into -- he had enthusiasm and took such pleasure in music! And he had such a great sense of humor and a finely honed bullshit detector, at least when it came to music. (Maybe his bullshit detector didn't function so well in his personal/love life, I don't know.)
I'm sorry I couldn't attend the wake and funeral. I was recovering from an operation on my hand (carpal tunnel syndrome) just a few days earlier and was still too doped up on painkillers and much too disoriented to drive anywhere. I feel bad about that. I should have been there. Frank deserved that respect.
Do you have an address for his parents? I want to write to them and tell them how I much I loved their son, what a good man he was.
When had you last seen him? Jesus, man, this is too fucking sad. What a sweet man ... What a sad waste ...
From: Dan Behrman, The Immigrant
Frankie the Vanilla Bean taught me about real and not so real Italian-American cooking wonders such as "gaveloun" and "pasta fazoul" in his own inimitable way and cracked me up doing so. He's one of the only guys who actually made me piss my pants (just a little pee though!) from laughing. I was driving around Jersey when he came on the air with the "Elvis sex call" and I almost had an accident because I was cracking up so much, I actually had to pull over and stop the car to listen to the rest of the show and blew an appointment because I just could not leave the car as I HAD to listen to the very end!
Between Larry and Mookie and doing a few of my own WFMU shows with him, I can honestly say that he was one of the funniest, most imaginative and quick-witted person I've ever known. Then again, were the darker sides of his personality when he would show up at my door just wanting to talk and share some of the difficult situations he was living and I would give him my ear and eventually try to offer resources and solutions which would sometimes work. He was a "total" kind of a guy and he was horrible when he was angry, I experienced some of that too, but there were no hard feelings. I saw him a couple of times after I left WFMU and the States to live in Canada and we always hugged and had a fine time even though a couple of things were unresolved between us, but we never held grudges.
I was shocked at the news of his untimely passing and I shall miss him dearly. I had an utmost respect for his radio endeavours and sincerely think his work should be documented for posterity's sake. They don't make 'em like that very often, he was a gem of a creator and I am convinced he marked a lot of people during his life which was way too short.
At any rate, radio programming up there just got a helluva lot better after November 3, that's for damn sure! (is this the correct date of his death? Please correct if wrong!).
I have since put a string of vanilla in a little test-tube next to my other WFMU memorabilia on a special shelf I have here in my apartment in Montreal. Frankie the Beanie-man will always have a warm spot in my Immigrant heart, may he be at peace wherever he is."
Dan Behrman, The Immigrant
From: Frank Malinowski
Date: Thu Nov 15 2001
Subject: Vanilla Bean
So sorry to hear about Frank Balesteri.
Thanks for putting up the photos. Like so many listeners, it is the first time I've seen him. I sure enjoyed his radio shows.
From: Bart Plantenga
Date: Fri, Nov 16, 2001
Subject: frankly about frank
I wanted to write something right after I heard of Frank's passing but as I was in the US and not regularly in front of a computer I thought I would wait until I returned to my home in Amsterdam. For you new DJs who don't know me, my name's bart and was a WFMU DJ [1986-88, 1991-96] and produced a show called Wreck This Mess.
For me, Frank, the Vanilla Bean, is not dead. Long ago my mind made an expressionistic holographic film of him to take with me for all time. The film is inspiring if open-ended, confusing, frustrating, all over the place, tentative, in your face and uncompromisingly complex and yet somehow vague. But the film also contains a lot of laughter and tense incidents relieved by comical bits. The Vanilla Bean is one of the two funniest people I have ever met.
He has been a kind of prosthetic spirit of [radio] creativity for me for a long long time. He remains a very real being in my subconscious. He affected me in my early WFMU listening days like no other DJ [ever]. It was like radio creativity as irreparable harm when he came on. His shows were like Lenny Bruce meets Tristan Tsara with a little gun powder and arsenic thrown in. Or Evel Knievel meets Groucho Marx.
What was it like to "know" him? Well, rewarding, frustrating and impossible because ultimately it was so difficult to gauge him, get a handle on him, get him to be on time. Time was something that had nothing to do with clocks for Frank. His biorhythms rejected clocks period. He ran on his own time. That could get irritating but ultimately you always forgave him [amazing how he could just make any irritation you felt toward him evaporate the moment he appeared] and learned to compensate. If you wanted to meet him at 9pm you told him to meet you at 7:30. As a DJ arriving on time for his show usually meant that Frank arrived about 10 minutes late [his reasons and excuses were always amazing o at least entertaining] but then he'd jump right into the thick of it. There he'd be, doing his scat-alogical motor mouth best, able to cue 2 records, be on mic AND on the phone all at the same time. The Man Who Fell To Earth is what I thought in those early impressionable days. Especially in light of the fact that I am fairly the total opposite as far as style -- no talk, never on mic. On top of that, my show prep usually began hours [days some might joke] before I went on the air. So I found it all the more amazing that he could do this so on the run, on the spur, on the heel of a life he just left out in the Upsala parking lot. It reminds me a little bit of a hobo during the Depression who was able to get on or off a freight train moving at speeds of 40 mph without flinching or breaking stride.
I asked him more than once how much of these radio skits he mapped out, how much of it was written out and he told me none of it. Before his show he'd usually discuss the themes, obsessions, current events and possible skit ideas with his co-hosts [RSM or Jim Price or others] and that was about it; the rest was winging it. I have always had a great suspicion of bad improv and the highest regard for those capable of great ad libbed improv, structured chaos...
I came to know him first from his wild antics late night with [and without] RS Moore. Brilliant. Remember [and still have bits on tape] of Tbird Lincoln stuff and the "3 Dicks" and "larry & mookie" and many more. But what I liked best was the thin veneer that sat between who he was and what he projected. Although a stranger might get the idea that he [like other comedians] is not anything like his stage/radio personality. He was and he wasn't.
I came to know him better when he chose to read 2 essays i'd written in 1985 [or so] for the less-than-excellent Aquarian Weekly about US culture under Reagan. He called me a genius on the air - it may have been his greatest error in judgment - and then he married the best friend of my then wife. And this meant getting to know another Frank. Just as funny but more humane. It was always touching to see how troubled he was about the world. And just as comforting to see him instantly convert it all into analytical and off-the-wall skits that had you laughing [and forgetting AND thinking].
What I learned was that he took his politics personally. Somehow he remained on top of most issues and managed to form informed opinions about many issues. He took Reagan personally, the many US invasions of many lands personally, and so he needed to make comical mincemeat out of world events that cut so close to his heart. Comedy as weapon, as counterfriction. And that is ultimately why his material, his skits, his rants and raps went deep. He was deep and the comedy and laughs were meant to expose gaping hypocrisies and heal deep felt wounds.
Shortly after first meeting Frank [with the guidance of Irwin and Ken as well] I found myself a DJ on the air at WFMU. This is a little like having sexual relations with Jayne Mansfield in a Yankee uniform in front of an audience of judgmental family members. In any case I was thankful. Frank also turned me on to various radical rhythm-based music most famously, the work of Adrian Sherwood - Tackhead, Mark Stewart, African Head Charge, et al. Frank even served as On-U tour manager in 1987ish and he helped see to it that On-U came to the old Cat Club and there I saw the most amazing concert of my life...
In some ways Frank is more like a great black humor novelist like Joseph Heller. He honed in on the universal absurdity of modern existence in the same way - personally and epic-ly.
Some of the most telling moments with Frank are always in public among others. He is someone who came to embody the entire webhype notion of interactivity and hypertext. Frank was walking and talking kinetic hypertext. He linked unlikely suspects, unlikely incidents and created a kind of comprehensible post-paranoid world view out of it all. What was his art then? Well, radio. But also people because as other DJs such as Doug have already noted, Frank had time, or found time for people who he thought he might be able to help. Help, assistance, encouragement, connecting people, these were Frank's other art forms. Incredible moments of selflessness. For if there was one thing he liked to do was talk. And despite what we may think with the veritable explosion of talk radio [everyone is babbling away] VERY little is being said qualitatively in all that quantity. He could have been a kind of Howard Stern who mattered. He even gave that notion a whirl...
I saw Frank last about 2 years ago, communicated with him last about 18 months ago. I knew that problems concerning his daughter were eating away at him. But Frank - even during this time - managed to find time to promote the bands and music and culture he liked, hook me up with people and go on and on in an amazingly infectiously upbeat manner - despite his own private torments. It was always 'things will get better' or 'things were already improving' with Frank. As with all complex creative people, Frank remains for me a dynamic zen koan, a conundrum wrapped in a riff, wrapped in an enigma, wrapped in a skit, wrapped in a warm blanket of undying hopefulness.
humbly and radio actively,
bart / wreck this mess
Subj: Re: musical shiva
Date: Sunday, November 11, 2001
From: Amy Brown
To: Frank O'Toole
"Bittersweet Symphony" was the best of one of the most moving tributes I've ever heard.
I put "Lament for Frankie" by Solas up in my Yahoo briefcase:
http://briefcase.yahoo.com/mingtoy.geo . Look in the "My Documents" folder. I think you might like it, but get out your handkerchief.
Is there a forwarding address for his parents?
I'd really like to send them a card. There's a Franciscan (!) shrine near my office that sells such things.
[ A true free-form Irish wake. You've done justice to his memory. ]
True gold fears no fire.
-- Chinese proverb
Subject: from Pseu Braun's site
Hats off in remembrance of WFMU staffer Frank Balesteri, the Vanilla Bean, who passed away this weekend apparently Saturday evening, the circumstances of which are still under investigation. He had been volunteering for the Record Fair and was even signed up to work Sunday. He was a beloved figure and a nice guy. My memories of him include the year when Vanilla Ice's lawyers sent him a cease and desist order to prevent him from using the radio name he'd had years before the Great White Dope even crawled outta da hood. This was completely hysterical and he actually had to change his moniker to "The Bean". Last year Frank brought his daughter (then 7 years old) Zoe, along with her Furbee, up to my show to visit. The man suffered alot of demons and seem to be doing very well after having a few downturns. He will be remembered as one of the great personalities there, and along with R. Stevie Moore, Jim Price and Irwin Chusid, share in my earliest memories of great freeform listening.
I picked the 1st name available.
This regards "Frank: (vanilla bean)
I just want u guys to know that Frank and I grew up in JC. together. He and I realized we liked the same kind of music (Ian Durry and the Blockheads, Blondie, Ramones (etc.) We didn't like the typical music that our friends liked. Frank and I freqeuented Hoboken together and saw the groups we admired. He was the coooolest and I'll never forget that. We had a lot in common in the music area. I'll miss you Frank,
Maureen Moore Ruckel
If anyone was close with Frank - I'd like to know what happened during his last years. I could probably tell you some things about the early years. We did the deed for sure!
From: Cousin Mimi
To: R. Stevie
Date: Wed, Nov 28, 2001
Subject: The Bean's Cousin Mimi...
Chris just passed on your email. I was Frank's favorite girl cousin. I have so many wonderful memories of my skinny red headed freaky cousin.
I miss him so much. My Father Dekay was Frank's father's older brother. And he would have loved the tribute Frankie did for him with Sabu but, he would have been broken hearted over Frank's passing. I missed the show Sunday night, for some reason I can't get the station on my radio. I visit the WFMU site at least 5 times a week. When I read the posts that people left, I realize how much alike my Dad and Frankie were. They lived to make people laugh and feel good. Both of them were clowns; laugh on the outside and cry on the inside. No matter how bad they felt they still tried to make others forget their pain. Only God knows how much pain they carried inside of them.
When we were about 5 years old, Frankie got mad at me for using his favorite No. 2 pencil.
Frank pulled it out of my hand and stuck me with it on the bridge of my nose. I have to tell you I still have lead in there. For 37 years I wear the small black dot as a reminder of my childhood with Frank. And believe me, I always showed him it every time we saw each other.
The night Frank passed away he was supposed to be at my son's engagement party. In a strange way he was. Thank you for all you have done for him and what's really important (as your email stated) is that talking about him keeps him alive. If you ever want to hear some strange childhood stories, and I mean strange LOL, please email me.
One great memory was when we were down in Atlantic City with our Grandmother Amelia. She took us to the boardwalk, we wanted to go on some rides, LOL so she got us some tickets to the fun house. As we got in the car to ride into blackness and be scared to death, Frankie didn't find anything inside scary so he started to complain out loud and I mean loud. As the car was turning on the track, Frank said something to the effect "This ride is a rip off, this stinks, we want our moneys worth" LOL. Well Frankie got his money's worth all right. One of the workers must have been inside the fun house working and cracked Frankie in the head with a whiffle bat. You know the plastic bats? I screamed when I heard the bat connect with his head and Frankie started to cry. My grandmother heard us screaming from outside and was trying to climb up onto the track to come in after us. LOL Frank had a bump on his head the size of an egg LOL. We got back to the hotel room and that's when we witnessed some guy jumping off the 11th floor balcony LOL. That's another story in itself. Fun as hell too!
If I was to write down everything we did together as children, I would be here for days.
Frank, was my "Huck Finn", my first luv, my King Arthur and we lived for a short time as children in "Camelot"
From: Mimi, part 2
Date: Fri, Nov 30, 2001
Subject: Re: Frankie Home Movies
WOW ~~~!!!! Were they the ones I gave him to put on VHS tape? I gave Frankie two reel to reel tapes (old super 8 ) movies. We had to be about 10 or 11 years old in them. A lot of silly stuff on them. That was when Frankie and I were on the Cecil B. Balesteri kick. And we really thought we were good. We charged the kids in the neighborhood to watch them in our basement. LOL We always charged the same kids. My dad (Dekay) gave me a super 8 camera when I was a little girl. LOL What I wanted my dad always gave me (spoiled rotten, I guess). I remember giving Frankie them to turn into VHS, but he never gave them to me LOL. That's so Frankie isn't it?
I miss my angel cousin so much. He called me about a week before he passed away and was telling me how good he was feeling about life and that he was on the right track. I was so happy for him. I just think Frank's demons caught up to him. He was such a happy and funny kid.
I am still living in Jersey City. The same house since Frank and I were kids. We did so many crazy things in this 6 family house. It's been in my family for about 60 years. Frank, Chris And Scott were born here on the 2nd floor. I am 5 months older then Frankie. My Dad (Dekay) passed away the day before Thanksgiving in 1990 on the 21st. Weird but this year it fell on the same date, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. So this has been a bittersweet month for our family.
Sabu still lives in Vegas and I wonder if he knows about Frank's passing? He was thrilled to death when Frank had him do the radio show. I have a great picture of Dekay's diner I could send you. I have to look for some of his stuff.
One quick Mimi and Frankie story, OK? LOL. Frank used to come downtown to my house every weekend. And this one weekend we were so bored we decided to make a GIANT WEB out of our grandmother's sewing thread. She was a seamstress all of her life, so she had hundreds of spools LOL factory size. HUGE spools. So, that Saturday morning we decided to make this web in the yard. Fence to fence we strung about 50 spools, it took us about 6 hours .. it was so huge that it blocked out the sunlight. <
> Picture a giant web multi-colored about 4 feet above our heads blocking the sun.. it was total darkness in the yard. After we got done, we had all the little kids pay us a dollar to break it. We were always looking for new ways to make record & candy money!!! And we did. God !! I am laughing just thinking about this. Anyway, I am rambling. Sorry!! :) I will email you again with another story soon.. This is great therapy. Thanks you for your email. Stay well, and most importantly
The first thing I thought of today when I saw the news about George Harrison was Frank has half a band with him in heaven. John and George...
Love and Light,
Ahh Scott I love you too Cousin.
I have been emailing the hell out of Steve the past few days.
> Its just that when I get to write down the things Frankie and I did when we were young it helps me.
I don't have to tell you or Chris how much I love Frankie.
But I do want to tell you that no matter what he loved and was proud of you both.
When he came upstate to hang out with me for a weekend last winter we got to talk about everything. It was the best weekend I had. We sat in the whole weekend watched movies listened to music and ate way to much pizza, But, we talked about everything.
He was so easy to talk to. It was that weekend when out of the blue he looked at me and said "You know what Mim's? I said huh? And he said you have always been my angelcousin an I love you" We had a special bond
The last time we talked on the phone was a week before he passed away and that was the last time I will ever hear him call me that. I know I didn't help him the right way when he called me for money but in my mind giving him it meant I got to see him and see how he was doing first hand. And He knew it!!! I would have done anything for him because I loved him that much.
Like I told Steve in my first email He was my "Huck Finn" and my King Arthur when we were growing up. We had a beautiful childhood didn't we guys? And that's what I think of when I think about my Angelcousin. Maybe that's why I can't sell this friggin house! The memories. I am praying so hard for your Father and I know God will not let any of us down. Scott as soon as my fear of flying I am coming down.
Chris? I am so proud of you. And Steve? I WANT THOSE TAPES? hahahah !!! Everyone please keep in touch and I will do the same.
Love And Light
Date: Mon, Dec 3, 2001
Subject: Re: The Bean's Cousin Mimi... LOL Steve are you kidding me or what??????
Sure I have a CD player. LOL i might live downtown Jersey City but I am in the 21 century. Its pissing me off that I can't get your station.
OK short frankie story....
When Frank on the radio in the Pocono's My Husband and I took a few days to get away from the kids and went the Glenwood resort for a weekend. We use to go there when we were kids with Frankies Mom and Dad. I loved it there so we went for a relaxing weekend. When we got there the whole place was filled with old people. <
> My husband said "i thought you said this was a great place," i looked around and said "well it was! We checked in and got stared at like we didn't belong. After checking in we went to the station to see Frank... He talked to us over the air and told his listeners that my husband was a member of the Village People. the biker dude he put it. And preceded to play YMCA. Haha. And told his audience that we were staying at the Glenwood for the weekend. after about 1 hour we went back to the resort and when we pulled up this crowd started to surround the car. About 30 people were asking Vinny my husband for his autograph. That weekend turned out to be a blast. The head of the resort hung out with us the whole weekend and took us out that Saturday night but the funny thing was. Frank wasn't of age to drink so he couldn't come with us! LOL he was pissed. The power of Radio huh Steve? He was loved upstate ... by the way my husband is a trumpet player and is in a Big Band (the Moonlighters) now how would that look if I didn't have a CD Player? Hahaha!!! talk soon ...
Love and Light
more to come
SEND YOUR OWN to RSM@WFMU.ORG
FB was Project Assistant on Rhino Club Classics "Give Your Body Up" CD (1995)
UNLIMITED CATERING (Left Coast)
These pages respectfully dedicated to:
Father Frank Sr., Uncle D.K. and Sabu