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Urban Verbs: Back for One Night Only
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Urban Verbs: Back for One Night Only
Urban Verbs: Back for One Night Only
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: A few years ago, Rob Goldstein was flipping through a rock encyclopedia and he came across the entry on the Urban Verbs.

M: First sentence was "fascinating but tragically overlooked."

: And that's the story of the Urban Verbs. They'll reunite for one show this evening at a club here in Washington.


M: (Singing) (unintelligible)

: In 1978 the stars aligned almost too perfectly for the Urban Verbs. The lead singer, Roddy Frantz, had a direct connection to the Talking Heads - Roddy's brother Chris was the drummer. At the time, the Talking Heads were working with legendary rock producer, Brian Eno, as Roddy explains.

M: They had finished up a session with Brian, and Chris said, hey, Brian, do you feel like going into CBGBs, my little brother's band's playing. And Brian apparently was just blown away by the mesh of sound that we were creating.

: Brian Eno offered to produce a few tracks, including this one, for the virtually unknown band.


M: (Singing) (unintelligible)

: Within a few weeks guitarist Robert Goldstein started sending those tracks to record labels.

M: It was very easy to get them to listen to a demo tape with Brian's, you know, name on it.

: Now, at that time the only way to get your music heard, even to be taken seriously by clubs, was to get a record deal. You couldn't just post your stuff to MySpace like plenty of ambitious bands do today. The Verbs were the real deal. They had Eno behind them and soon producer Steve Lilywhite agreed to work with them as well.

Lilywhite had already produced records for acts like Peter Gabriel and U2. But there were forces that even the best producers and musicians in the business couldn't surmount. I asked Robert Goldstein and Roddy Frantz about those forces when we sat down together earlier this week.

You guys had arguably some really amazing advantages. I mean, you had Brian Eno willing to work with you; your manager worked with Blondie. What happened? Why didn't it, why...

M: Why didn't it happen, you mean?

: Why didn't it happen?

M: Well, it's a question that, obviously, we spent a lot of time wondering about. We were told by this fellow at Warner Brothers, you guys have taken the artistic route and that implies certain things about what you got to do. You're not going to be able to get hit records maybe right off the bat.

And because we couldn't get on the radio, that just meant we had to spend that much more time to performing in front of people to build an audience who would demand the records and then that would transfer to radio. Because we didn't do that, however you want to formulate that sort of strategy, I think that's one business reason why enough people didn't get to hear what we were doing and then decide I want to buy those records.

: Roddy.

M: The other thing that just killed us was my relationship with the drummer in the Talking Heads. Because we were mining some similar territory...

: You were often compared to David Byrne.

M: Yeah, and I think that was a somewhat fair comparison in some cases but...

: People were saying you guys were the Talking Heads light.

M: Yeah, and, you know, I still hear that. I mean, it makes me crazy but we also got ambushed by a particularly virulent review in Rolling Stone and just slaughtered us.

M: Many of the people at Warner Brothers in Los Angeles, they were just starting to get to know us and figure out what we were, where to put us and then to see this total slam in Rolling Stone about something they didn't yet even understand, I think kind of demoralized them a little bit too.

: How often do you guys think about the Urban Verbs? Roddy?

M: You know, I deliberately turn my back on it. When the band disbanded, I said, okay. It's never going to be this good again. I'm going to do other things, and I did.

: Robert Goldstein, how often do you think about the Urban Verbs and about what could have been?

M: I guess it's far more accurate to say when don't I, to be honest.


M: Because in the same way that Rod just said, I mean, for me in my desire to be an interesting guitar player, this was my apogee. And I felt that - I remember something that The Edge from U2 said a long time ago (unintelligible) they were going to finally get back in the studio - said the world needs to hear my guitar. Kind of that was great of him to say that I just felt like I had something to say on guitar and it was sort of stilled somehow. And I felt just at the point I was becoming the guitar player I wanted to be, the thing was all over.


: That's Robert Goldstein, NPR music librarian. And earlier we heard from Roddy Frantz, the founding members of the Urban Verbs, a band that just skimmed the outer edge of stardom. Here's their biggest single: it's called "Subways."


M: (Singing) Subways, (unintelligible), subways, where (unintelligible), subways, you (unintelligible)...

: Now, if you happen to be in Washington, you can catch the Urban Verbs at the 930 Club tonight, and if not, you can hear a replay online tomorrow at


M: (Singing) And even though I never ever met them, I can assure you that my best friend (unintelligible) subways, (unintelligible) emotion, subways, you know, it's vaguely enticing, subways, I'm under confusion, now I, I can't relax. (unintelligible), I just...

: We leave you tonight with these parting words about success and failure by Theodore Roosevelt:

It is not the critic who counts, he wrote, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood and strives valiantly; who airs and comes short again and again, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy cause; who at best knows achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

That's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

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