“Discoveries and New Sounds,” 1986: The Special Guests’ tongue-in-cheek tribute to the Father of Cubism, “Paul Cézanne”

By on September 3, 2016

In this special “Discoveries and New Sounds” segment from our 5th year anniversary show — it aired on June 7, 1986, and is now streaming on Night Flight Plus — we dug deep in the art history books and uncovered “Paul Cézanne,” a rarely-seen 80s pop music video by Columbia University grads the Special Guests, described by Night Flight’s Pat Prescott as being “a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the Father of Cubism.”

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The Special Guests formed while they were all still students at Columbia University in New York City, in 1983, which also happens to have been the same year that Barack Obama graduated from the same school, located in upper Manhattan on West 114th Street.

This appealing fun-loving seven-piece combo featured two songwriters — Baltimore-born singer/guitarist Tom Collins-Meltzer, and bassist Paul Foglino, both Class of ’84 — and rounding out the rest of the band were Jennifer Collins (saxophone, Class of ’84), Mark Ettinger (keyboards, Class of ’86), Steve Greenfield (saxophone, Class of ’82), Wally Griffith (guitar and vocals, class of ’84) and Dave Helberg (drums, Class of ’87).

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Tom and Paul both shared an appreciation for quirky, jangly pop, as well as an interest in setting the world straight on the fact that Paul Cézanne should be considered the Father of Cubism, the 20th Century art movement — particularly Tom, as it was his song and he was the one who believed the Post-Impressionist French painter wasn’t getting enough respect.

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In 1984, they recorded the song at Variety Recording Studios and then self-released their single of “Paul Cézanne,” housed in a construction paper sleeve, which they sold themselves at their gigs, mostly around NYC.

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They won the occasional Battle of the Bands contest and garnering a loyal following of fans, even ending up as the opening act on a handful of big shows, before making this video in 1985, which was directed by Cindy Keefer for C Films, Inc.

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The video — which gave the band national attention for awhile — was made in an off-campus basement using strips of tape leftover from film students’ senior thesis projects, and combined footage of the band playing live in various NYC club, but also added some animation and what the band have called “vignettes,” which you’ll just have to see for yourself.

The video made its debut at the New Music Seminar at Studio 54 in NYC, and when it aired on “Night Flight” it was also occasionally being aired on MTV, and soon they were playing larger venues, almost all of them long gone now, like Wollman Auditorium at Columbia (It was demolished in 1996 to make way for Alfred Lerner Hall, which now contains Wollman’s replacement, Roone Arledge Auditorium), as well as popular dive clubs in the city, including The Dive, Kenny’s Castaways and CBGB’s, where the band can be seen posing for photos you see here.

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The Special Guests on the CBGB stairwell leading to “The Most Disgusting Bathroom Ever” — with Tom Collins-Meltzer, David Helberg, Jennifer Collins, Paul Foglino, Steve Greenfield, Wally Griffith and Mark Ettinger

As you can see, they were all a bunch of congenial-looking twenty-somethings with clean-cut good looks and regular haircuts.

You can tell this was a band who weren’t trying to change the world, they were just good guys and gals who wanted to have fun.

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Indeed, a reporter named Scott Aiges, writing for the Columbia Daily Spectator (September 24, 1985), described them this way:

“This is good guy music. The kind that makes you tap your feet, jump up and down, join in on the choruses and dance like hell. You know when they’re playing because everybody has huge grins on their faces.”

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During these interviews, Tom and Paul would openly admit that they preferred a lot of the melodic pop music from the 1950s and ’60s to what was going on musically at the time, with the exception of the Talking Heads.

“We want tunes that people can hum,”saxophonist Steve Greenfield told one writer. “We want people to know that they heard a tune.”

That same article also mentioned that the band plugged their guitars straight into their amplifiers, and didn’t bother with any effects pedals or trickery.

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From this flyer above, it looks like they played their last official show on May 30, 1986, just before their video aired in our special anniversary show segment.

However, today, we’ve learned the band are still together, with occasional personnel changes, but they’re now called The Five Chinese Brothers, and they still perform regularly on Columbia University’s campus at the Postscrypt Coffee House. They’ve also released an album, Singer Songwriter Beggerman Thief.

Yes, they still look like a bunch of good guys.

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For more “Discoveries and New Sounds” from 1986 — including the hilarious two-bit animation from Stop’s “Wake Up,” the sample-based ratings controversy inspired “Explicit Lyrics,” by Blackwell Project, and a reverb drenched vocal take on techno-pop from act Growing Up Different — check out our special show on Night Flight Plus .

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.