Song #33: Tenterhooks – “Helpless”

September 24, 2020
Song #33: Tenterhooks – “Helpless”

I mentioned in an earlier entry that at some point around mid-2014, my musical tastes had started to shift. I was listening mostly to fast, loud rock and roll and early punk, and felt some weird compulsion to move the record label in that direction after a few years of putting out just anything I liked. Dromedary had poor distribution, wasn’t getting paid, wasn’t getting much attention at all – but unlike when this happened when I was in my 20s, I wasn’t devastated by it. I just felt like maybe I needed to reimagine the label.

My first go-around with the reimagining thing was mostly all wrong. I decided that the best way to do it was to mothball Dromedary entirely, and start a brand-new label. As I was thinking through the logistics of that, Stuyvesant was putting the finishing touches on their Shmyvesant LP. Brian Musikoff was, in addition to being the band’s bass player, the band’s visual artist, and he was doing the design work for the LP. Of course he was aware of my wrestling with the Dromedary vs. “new label” idea, and he weighed in – fairly – by saying he’d rather Shmyvesant be the first record on my new label than be the last record on my old one. That was the impetus to start the new label, which I called the Sugarblast Music Company.

“Sugarblast” is a great fucking name, I might add, that effectively describes most of what Dromedary has put out. “Music Company” was a better way to describe music releases today, as they’re not all “records” in the traditional sense – in that respect, I’ll probably change Dromedary’s name to “The Dromedary Music Company” or something like that, when I get around to it.

Anyway, the Sugarblast Music Company released three records: Shmyvesant, a WFDU live compilation of bands that played on my radio show, and Meanwhile In Another Part Of Town, by Tenterhooks.

Tenterhooks was the brainchild of Lenny Zenith, who I’ve known for decades and met when he was the singer and guitar player in Jenifer Convertible. Jenifer Convertible were one of my favorite bands in the 90s, an outstanding, noisy pop band that released a couple of great singles on Jim Santo’s Dive Records label (Jim was the other guitarist in the band). Of course I mentioned earlier how badly I wrecked things with Jenifer Convertible by putting Dromedary on indefinite hiatus in the late 90s, leaving them with a finished album and nobody to put it out. Ultimately it came out on a new label that vomited out three records in 1997 and disappeared. One of those records was JenCon’s Wanna Drag?, a 12-song barnburner produced by Wharton Tiers that we were supposed to release on Dromedary in 1996 and then flaked. That record deserved better than it got.

Jenifer Convertible wrote unbelievable pop songs, all four guys in the band were astonishingly good musicians with fantastic songwriting skill. Their music blended the sing-song melodies of Big Star with the swampy, slacker-rock of Pavement into this tight, noisy postpunk that was just one great song after another.

When we rekindled with the band and re-established Dromedary, we agreed with the guys from Jenifer Convertible that we’d do something together – they’re actually listed on the Dromedary website as being part of our roster. However, aside from their contribution to our Make the Load Lighter compilation, their appearance at our CMJ show at Maxwell’s in 2010, and our including their wonderful cover of the Left Banke’s “Pretty Ballerina” on a sampler CD we gave away that same year, we have yet to actually do anything with the band.

But in 2014, when Lenny approached me about putting out music by his new band, Tenterhooks, I jumped at the chance.

Lenny writes songs, all the time, he’s been doing it forever. He’s been making music for 30 years, opened for the likes of Iggy Pop, U2, X and The Replacements, fronted bands based in New Orleans, Detroit, and New York City. Equally inspired by glam, punk, and pop music, he’s got a huge library of influences – like David Rat, Lenny is this underground music staple who’ll drop a top-40 song on you like it was “Sonic Reducer” and you should love it. No pretenses at all. He’ll play punk rock in some shitty hole on the Lower East Side, but then he’ll sing Motown songs at a tribute to the songwriters of the Brill Building, moving effortlessly between those two worlds.

Lenny is trans, and since he transitioned at a young age, he recognized that his experiences could be helpful to other members of the trans community. Lenny talks about his youth, his transition, and his life as a trans musician freely and openly, at some point in his life realizing that his unbelievable confidence and strength and humanness could maybe save a kid’s life someday – or at least help a person to understand that they matter, that their feelings are real, and that they can live their lives as well.

Lenny Zenith (photo: Eva Mueller)

We put out the first Tenterhooks EP, Meanwhile In Another Part Of Town, and Lenny played a few shows with that band. But he’s a busy guy, and between working on his memoir, doing his day job, playing shows and writing music, it was a while before Lenny recorded again. In early 2018, he approached me about putting his next record out on Sugarblast, and though I was happy to put his music out again, by that time, I’d sorta migrated back to Dromedary.

Ultimately, though, Lenny wound up doing something much better than putting out a record with me: he founded XYYX Records, a label focused on providing an avenue for trans, nonbinary, LGBTQ individuals and allies to release their music. He stepped out from behind the band names he’s always been associated with, and released What If The Sun under his own name, and its an excellent pop record. Lenny is an inspiration to everyone who’s fortunate enough to have met him, and continues to use his confidence and his talent to help elevate and support other trans musicians. You should pay attention to what he’s doing with his label.

Though the Tenterhooks record was released on Sugarblast in 2015, we’re moving it to Dromedary Records today, with Lenny’s blessing. If you purchase it today, we’ll donate our proceeds to the LGBT National Help Center.

Also, we should note: ALL the Jenifer Convertible music has been reissued on Jim Santo’s Dive Records label. ALL proceeds from sales of these records go to the ACLU. You should own them all.

~ by Al on September 24, 2020.

One Response to “Song #33: Tenterhooks – “Helpless””

  1. […] Al has some very nice things to say about Lenny Zenith and the Tenterhooks EP I recorded and mixed a while back (which is moving to […]

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