The Rise, Fall and Reunion of The Leisure Class It's a common rock 'n' roll story: A wonderfully innovative band crashes at the top of their creative peak when their poetry-spouting frontman becomes consumed with heroin. Producer Trey Kay charts the rise, fall and reunion of the group The Leisure Class.

The Rise, Fall and Reunion of The Leisure Class

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This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Madeleine Brand.

For every rock 'n' roll success, there are thousands of failures, bands that never make it to platinum-record stardom. Producer Trey Kay dug through the dustbin of music history and, as part of an occasional series, found several bands worth remembering. Here's the first. It's called Leisure Class.

(Soundbite of crowd noise)

TREY KAY reporting:

About 12 years ago in a smoky, Manhattan East Village rock club, I discovered the Leisure Class, which was like sitting in the stands of a debauched circus.

(Soundbite of song)

LEISURE CLASS: (Singing) I saw a beauty in a Burger King...

KAY: The band had a first-class horn section, a small choir of backing vocalists and perhaps most captivating was front man Dimitri Mugianis, a possessed madman from Detroit who would strut and jump around the stage cussing and freely launching into poetic rants.

(Soundbite of song)

LEISURE CLASS: (Singing) And my tongue grew ...(unintelligible) like marbles. Zach sat on a rock with the same name. He berated an electrician by trade who was moonstruck and born of flame. They called him Red.

KAY: Dimitri borrowed a lot from the style of the Beat poets.

Mr. DIMITRI MUGIANIS (Lead Singer, Leisure Class): My heroes--a lot of them were in the Beat movement, you know. And it was Huncke, it was Burroughs, Corso, Ginsberg. Well, I got to meet these guys, you know. I got to cop dope for these guys. I got to live with these guys, you know.

(Soundbite of song)

LEISURE CLASS: (Singing) His name is Antoine. They call him Tony. He come from Haiti. He speak the Creole. He glad to be here. He works so hard. Sometimes he gets lonely and he smoked that crack-crack. He go to heaven.

KAY: The drug ethos that was often associated with the Beats' work managed to lure Dimitri deep into his own heroin addiction.

Mr. MUGIANIS: It impacted negatively on the band for sure, 'cause I was high, man, you know. And not just being high--you know, I could perform high. I was a heroin addict, and I would have to adjust, you know, my intake so I could still perform but not be sick. And those kind of logistics--the logistics of copping, the logistics of being in jail, of coming up with the money as well as having a 13-piece band--towards the end, I couldn't come up with any money.

(Soundbite of music)

KAY: The band collapsed in 1994, but not without leaving a legacy of great music. They did a lot of studio recording and have released a two-CD set that chronicles more than 15 years of their wide-ranging work.

(Soundbite of music)

KAY: Drummer Glenn Johnson wasn't strung out on drugs. He was a devoted student of music who stood outside of the madness and meticulously wrote complex arrangements, ones that had the band genre-diving into a countless number of styles.

Mr. GLENN JOHNSON (Drummer, Leisure Class): I listened to all that stuff, you know, a hundred different kinds of music, and I could not bring myself to just do one kind no matter how hard I tried.

KAY: So the fans were treated to this Weimar oom-pah sounding thing.

(Soundbite of music)

KAY: That could be followed by this bluesy space jam.

(Soundbite of music)

KAY: Lead singer Dimitri Mugianis.

Mr. MUGIANIS: You know, we did things like, you know, a classical minuet, I guess it would be--I don't know--like a muted trumpet, a bass clarinet and a violin. That's how we'd start the show. And that would get people more pissed off than, you know, screaming in their face a lot of the time, you know. In Detroit in particular, there were actually violent reactions to it 'cause there's recordings of shows ending with the sound of punches being thrown.

KAY: Some labels were interested in the Leisure Class, but it never worked out. Listening back now to their music, I'm happy to say they sound just as good as they did back then. You'll hear their early stuff--they're pumped again...

(Soundbite of song)

LEISURE CLASS: (Singing) Mild-mannered millionaire living in a penthouse suite. In the day he's a playboy executive and his house is always neat.

KAY: ...on to scored existential poems that sound like mini-rock operas.

(Soundbite of song)

LEISURE CLASS: (Singing) He came to make emotions real and dreams fact. He brought out the sun and made things grow. He is all the good we know.

(Soundbite of music)

LEISURE CLASS: (Singing) He came to save the lonely souls who wander empty tunes. We hum the tune of the foregone moon and whip the spoon from the baby's mouth and let it cry out without hope for comfort for all is lost.

KAY: ...and an R&B styling of a urban Bohemian pondering his relationship with Jesus Christ.

(Soundbite of song)

LEISURE CLASS: (Singing) It's a beautiful Easter Day in the city. Women in white dresses waiting for buses, children like little men and women dressed in your honor, and I'm touched by your image as I stop to watch two girls with you crucified hanging from their necks, enjoying the sermon...

KAY: At a time when there is a glut of re-releases and retrospective box sets of once mega-artists, the Leisure Class collection is a celebration of something rare, something that we might have missed the first time around.

(Soundbite of song)

LEISURE CLASS: (Singing) Jesus almost loved me, but he missed. Jesus almost loved me, but he missed. Jesus had his moments, but he missed. Jesus had his chance with us when I see those women kiss. Jesus almost loved me, but he missed.

BRAND: That piece from producer Trey Kay. And you can hear more of Leisure Class on the Web at

(Soundbite of song)

LEISURE CLASS: (Singing) I felt the presence of his gentle spirit. I felt his grace. And the rage inside me subsided and I felt guided by the hand of omnipotence, no longer divided. Jesus almost loved me, but he missed.

(Soundbite of music)

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