A rowdy Deadbeat Poets tune is a hit at the Liverpool Football Club (yes, that Liverpool). Their music gets regular play on satellite radio. They look forward to a second European tour. Their mongrel pedigree joins punk to power pop, even folk. Their complex backstory gives them authority; proof is their album, Circustown. These Poets are more than survivors of the rock wars. At this late, improbable date, they’re winners.
The Deadbeat Poets are from Youngstown. John Koury plays drums, Pete Drivere lead guitar. Rhythm guitarist Terry Hartman and bass guitarist Frank Secich alternate lead vocals. Formed in 2006, the Poets have released two CDs on New Jersey’s Pop Detective Records: Notes From the Underground (2007) and this year’s Circustown. They record at Ampreon Recorder, Drivere’s Youngstown studio. Former WMMS-FM icon Kid Leo plays Circustown tunes “Elvin Dabney Professional Thief,” “The Staircase Stomp” and “Just Like in the Real World” on Underground Garage (Sirius 25).
The Poets have three local dates coming up fast: September 17 at the Beachland Ballroom, opening for Peter Case; October 8 at the Happy Dog in Lakewood, with the New Salem Witch Hunters; and October 16 at Cedars Lounge in Youngstown, with the Witch Hunters and Jellybricks.
Drivere and Koury come from the Infidels, a Youngstown band formed in the '80s. Hartman began playing rock ‘n’ roll in the late '60s and was in the Backdoor Men, Terry and the Tornadoes, and Napoleon in Rags. Secich also started in the '60s and is best known for founding the storied power pop group, Blue Ash. Poets’ music is earthy, angry, surreal, driving. It’s melodic pop with a punk streak, its terrain that old, weird Americana, Midwest-style.
Circustown is an actual place in Butler, Pennsylvania. It’s one of the first places Secich visited when he quit music in the early '90s to become an insurance salesman.
“It’s an old, abandoned amusement park/zoo/fairgrounds kind of thing,” says Secich from his home in Hermitage, Pennsylvania, 10 miles northeast of Youngstown. “It sits on the side of this upgraded hill, and there are about 30 buildings made of corrugated steel that look like Arabian tents. When I saw it, I thought it would be a great album cover for, like, Led Zeppelin. It’s an amazing place. Your mind reels with what went on.”
The site became the germ of Hartman’s Circustown. The song is a bittersweet homage to a time that was simpler but no less depressed than today. It’s about the gap between aspiration and execution, about how reality so often falls short of fantasy.
“Terry’s always had such great insight into the human condition,” says Secich. “My stuff’s more surrealistic; there are not many love songs.”
“When Frank and I were putting the thing together,” says Hartman from his home in Freedom Township, near Ravenna, “I thought it [Circustown] was symbolic, but not in a decadent sense, of the fall of America. At one time, people were entertained by that kind of stuff.
"It made me think, what does it take to entertain people today? It was after watching too many zombie movies and video games; it seems like everything is ultraviolent and everything has lost the simplicity of family picnics and things like that.”
Circustown caps an epic album spanning Hartman’s blistering “People These Days” (first recorded in 1980 with Terry and the Tornadoes), Secich’s “I Thought I Knew You” (a 1974 Blue Ash tune not released on either of their records), Hartman’s garish “Murder in the Choir” and Secich’s stunning “Madras Man.” The disk is both cinematic and novelistic: Secich’s “Sunglass City” is a vivid depiction of pop burnout, Hartman’s “At Least It Worked out for You” a complicated, self-deprecating kissoff, “I Thought I Knew You” a sweet love song by Secich and Bill “Cupid” Bartolin, the former Blue Ash lead guitarist. Bartolin died of lung cancer last October. The album took 14 months to record.