Who is Biff Thuringer? ... and what is a Biffogram?
The answers to these questions are complicated, but let's get started. Biff Thuringer is a construction -- a humanoid with no father or mother, created in the mind of a state worker in 1982 as an attempt to hide his subversive nature and to avoid paying taxes on what were then a series of sporadic moonlighting jobs as a musician. The role of this alter ego has shifted through the years, as its author has morphed from social worker to computer systems analyst to cartoonist, poet, singer/songwriter, recording artist, journalist, editor, novelist and magazine publisher, and back to social worker again, sort of. During the 1980s, Thuringer published The Biffogram, distributing 1,000 copies each month to fans and coworkers as a combination calendar/gossip/humor rag with the primary goal of getting people to gigs in Albany and New York City. Oddly, there exist bound volumes of these rags in the dusty closets of a number of retired NY State Tax Department employees. What you are looking at is the rebirth of the name and general temperament of that extinct publication, coupled with an expanded mission: to entertain and provide grist for the heart, mind and soul of anyone who stumbles into this rabbit hole. Good luck getting out.
During the 1990s our founder, temporarily shedding the Biff persona, quit government work and joined the NYC funk band Milo Z, which toured around the U.S. with the Neville Brothers, The Meters, and Al Green. The band got a record deal with Mercury and did all right until their guy at the label, Ed Eckstyne, got canned by the suits at Polygram. They were friends with the Spin Doctors, Blues Traveler, Joan Osborne, God Street Wine, and others who had come up out of the Nightingale scene on Second Avenue in the Lower East Side. It was a heady time, rubbing shoulders with movie stars, mobsters and music moguls.
Success turned out, as most things do, to be a double-edged sword, especially the more popular the band got. As exciting as things were on the surface, it was a strange, lonely and not very rewarding time, when one wasn't onstage beating off the demons. Milo really, really wanted to be the next Michael Jackson and was working hard on his inner diva. Biff wasn't into living in a fantasy bubble, surrounded by sycophants. The road totally sucked and he was relieved when the band broke up. He's been avoiding the road ever since, but is starting to get over it.
Elsewhere in his career as a sideman, Thuringer under another name played with the late Nick Brignola, according to Downbeat the best baritone sax player ever. He was in a great disco funk band, Natural Essence, with the unbelievable jazz bassist Santi Wilson Debriano. He played with Tony Lindsay, Grammy-winning lead singer for Santana, with renowned Polish jazz violinist Michal Urbaniak, and with doo-wop legends The Jive Five, to crowds of over 200,000.
Thuringer also experienced a very short and very successful (if anonymous) career as a contract dance music producer. In 1995 he was paid $400 to work on a track for the producer working with a Europop group called No Mercy. With a sampled drum track and swatches of samples of the singers that had been recorded in France and linked to the keys of a synthesizer, he had to figure out the changes, construct the song and make up/record keyboard and bass parts. The song was called "Where Do You Go," and turned out to be a huge dance hit in the U.S. and U.K. Some of that feel has been creeping into his music lately, after listening to Nile Rodgers talk about it.
Most of Thuringer's music career has been playing solo in clubs, as a singing piano and/or guitar player turning down requests for Billy Joel songs from tables full of nuns and drunk sailors. He's not doing that any more. Ever. Just so we're clear.
Biff Thuringer is now in full effect. He's throwing all his shit out on the internet in one yearlong blast, doing things quick and dirty using his iPhone, garageband, the old Korg M1 from the Milo Z days and a Mexican Strat with a crappy digital effects box. Right now he plays all the parts, like Trent Reznor used to. He sings right into the phone. Fuck it. Biff resolutely refuses to choose a genre, but tends to work in jazz, funk, soul, r&b and rock. Just before he runs out of time, he's going to start a band and have big parties in a barn like Levon Helm did, making the world come to him and hand him awards and money. The band is going to have to be really, really good, and everybody's going to have to sing, like in Sly and the Family Stone. That's the dream, anyway.
Upon the breakup of the band in 1996, Thuringer kicked around Manhattan for another year or so, booking acts at Cafe a Go Go, bicycle messengering for Breakaway Couriers, and joining a pioneering pedicab operation started by the legendary George Bliss in the garage across the street from his apartment on East Third Street (right next to the Hell’s Angels NYC headquarters). At one point Biff’s then-girlfriend suggested a move upstate to her hometown of Millbrook, in the Hudson Valley. The couple settled in an apartment on a horse farm on Butts Hollow Road, next door to Daryl Hall’s farm.
Biff (doing business as Steve Hopkins for this phase of his life) began writing music reviews for Hudson Valley Magazine, also working temporarily for Dutchess County implementing the 911 project, while his girlfriend continued to ply her trade as massage therapist to the stars (Mariah Carey, Tommy Mottola, Kyra Sedgwick, etc.) As idyllic as this arrangement seemed to be, things did not work out as planned. The happy couple broke up, only days after Steve started work part-time at the local Taconic Press newspaper office, doing layout and pasteup. The company published seven weekly papers and an entertainment magazine. Suddenly in need of a full-time job and and a place to live, Steve approached the executive editor of the papers, Bob Lomicky, asking to be considered for a reporter position. The editor came through with a job as Harlem Valley Times reporter, plus “paginator" (layout artist). The job came with a $250 per week salary and a $100 per month room in the “Taconic Arms,” a rooming house owned by the publisher, Hamilton Meserve. Hopkins was saved.
The reporting job, which turned out to be a 60-to-80-hours-per-week affair, was a godsend. Steve threw himself into the work, reporting and writing news stories and opinion pieces, and tackling investigative projects that garnered him some local and regional notoriety. He won a number of New York Press Association writing awards, and in a year and a half rose in the organization to executive editor. At the same time, the papers were sold by Meserve to the Journal Register Corporation, which was in the business of systematically buying and gutting daily and weekly newspapers all over the eastern and midwestern United States.
During this period Hopkins, deep into a project investigating corruption and organized criminal activity in New York State, took a 6-month leave of absence to complete a report for The Nation Institute. The report, titled “Adventures in Patakistan: Toxic Waste Dumping, Politics and the Mob in Upstate New York,” can be read on this website. The editors of The Nation were interested in Hopkins pursuing the story further, on the condition that New York Gov. George Pataki was chosen by GW Bush as his running mate. As this did not happen, the story was considered “local” and no further investigations or stories on this subject were funded. As an obsessive Don Quixote figure, Hopkins was not pleased, and didn't exactly let go. The large-scale poisoning of millions of people for profit was and is still happening, all over the globe, and is still being managed by the same sort of people ... mobsters, unscrupulous business people and corrupt government officials. Trump is definitely one of them. Hopkins is looking into that.
Meanwhile, Hopkins went back to work at the newspaper and was “promoted” to a job as executive editor of a larger news chain in Connecticut. That job did not last long … about 8 months. Disillusioned with newspapering and beating his head against a wall, Hopkins got a job in NYC again, ghostwriting for an infamous but lazy satirist. He gave three weeks notice on August 29, 2001, his 49th birthday. A couple of weeks later he watched the towers fall from the seat of his bike near Union Square. It took about two seconds to realize that America was about to turn from a quasi-democratic, New World Order oligarchy into an unapologetic, proto-fascist police state. Back upstate in his new fiancee’s basement (they had met at Taconic Press), he wrote a heavily disguised novel, using a lot of single-source, unverifiable stuff he couldn't include in the “Patakistan”report, and changing all the names, places and events to protect the innocent, the guilty, and anybody who still might want to chop him into little pieces. It took about six months to write the first draft. The minute he was done, he got a serendipitous call from publisher Geddy Sveikauskas of Ulster Publishing, who needed help jump-starting the Saugerties Times and the Kingston Times, and was back in the news business until he got tired of it again and re-retired, this time to start his own news magazine, the Hudson Valley Chronic, which broke even financially but is currently on a temporary hiatus due to its being too much work at this late stage in Hopkins’ life.
Hopkins tried getting the book published around 2002/03, but no one was interested at the time in anything so antithetical to our new uber-patriotic zeitgeist. Now, nearly 20 years later, it seems that some of us might be ready --- although the left is now so hypersensitive about words and phrases Hopkins (now veering back into Biff Thuringer mode) had to go back in and alter some potential trigger language that might have gotten him in a twitter war with an army of shamers. Charles Bulowski would have had a hard time getting a word in edgewise these days. Hopkins’ wife went to Vassar and is pretty PC-literate, and she helped him through it.
The novel is titled: “Wasted: A Story of Love Gone Toxic”. It’s available on demand as a paperback and/or e-book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, Jet, and IndieBound, a consortium of independent bookstores. It’s co-published by Epigraph Books and Chronic Publishing. It looks like this:
S T A F F
Biff Thuringer, Publisher
Steve Hopkins, Executive Editor
Stephon DeBris, Music Editor