The rise, demise and rise of Stone Pages
By Lindsay Colip
“Keith Moon, God rest his soul, once drove his car through the glass doors of a hotel, driving all the way up to the reception desk, got out and asked for the key to his room.”
Pete Townshend – 2005
The rise, demise and rise of Stone Pages By Lindsay Colip
It was a dark and blustery night in New York City when I first encountered the rock n’ roll band Stone Pages. Boisterous and swaggering, the formidable duo of J. Christopher “Whit” Whitcomb and Mark “Moe” Mandell met me at The Bowery Hotel for a pre-show interview before their sold out gig at Arlene’s Grocery, the East Village rock haven.
Having just come off a successful first leg of their 2017 World Tour, they were exuding a confidence and calm that suited them. Whit remarked that he felt very good about their set list and the power that it packed. The only thing lacking, he commented, was backing vocals. He worked hard on recruiting Filipino pop star/Bowery bus boy,
Ray-Ray, to no avail. Not giving up, he was successful in convincing new hostess Nicky to commit. With a full head of hair and a booming voice, Whit had chosen the perfect compliment to his strong vocals. He’d been tuning his many guitars, staying up late trying out different medleys of rock n roll hits, barely sleeping because of his dedication to the band and this particular show. Moe, equally as dedicated, had purchased a new cashmere scarf.
After a few drinks and lively conversation, it was time to head to the show. And what a show it was. The packed crowd was hooked from the first strum of Moe’s guitar. The boys took us from hit to hit for two solid hours. “Can’t You See” to “Bertha” to “Stairway to Heaven” to “All Along The Watchtower” to the bring-the-house-down finale of “Rockin’ In The Free World.” The audience was dancing, singing, having an absolute blast. So much so that I had no idea that drama was brewing on stage. What I perceived as friendly banter was actually quite more apocalyptic. But, like true professionals, Whit and Moe smiled between the snarls and finished the show with rockstar bravado.
The sweat dried and we moved back to The Bowery for the
after party. The boys held court in the lobby late into the night as band
co-managers Bruce “Wee Man” Mandell and Joe Blake funneled in the groupies. As
this wasn’t an ideal setting for a proper interview, I asked if we could
continue the following day. They readily agreed. I needed to get into get into
the depths of their musical backgrounds and influences, learn why they chose
the songs they chose, hear how the band came together and most importantly,
find out where Moe got his cashmere scarf.*
We reconvened at Gemma the next morning as the most perfect snowflakes were falling. The boys looked handsomely disheveled and were still clearly buzzing from the night before. At one point Whit left the table to go check on “something in his room“ … this is a rock band after all. I knew then that this day was going to be special. I did not, however, anticipate the rollercoaster that lay ahead of us. Breakfast was civilized and upbeat, mainly recounting gig stories from the night before. This was when I learned that the playful banter I thought we were seeing on stage was not as it seemed. What I perceived as Whit saying to Moe, “You sound really great pal” was him actually saying “Turn your guitar down.” Then what I thought was something along the lines of “Moe, you are truly crushing it” was in reality “Turn your amp down.” Finally I was certain I heard him say “Moe, you are really the best bandmate a guy could have” but really he had yelled “Moe. Turn your fucking guitar down. Now.” As Whit told this story, I could see Moe tearing up from laughing so hard. But, were those really tears of laughter I wondered? Or something deeper.
Three hours from this moment, Moe would quit the band.
It happened at Fanelli’s and it happened fast. It was during a round of set list suggestions Moe was trying out on Whit. What seemed innocent to me at first, was not. “What about Heart? U2? Prince?” Moe would ask. “No. No. No” replied Whit. I soon realized what was happening. Moe was fatiguing Whit. For every 10 ridiculous song suggestions he’d make (fully knowing Whit would veto), he kept one in his back pocket that would finally get Whit’s attention. On this particular round, the back pocket song presented was “Little Wing.” Whit lit up. “YES… the version by Sting obviously” but Moe countered “No, I clearly meant the definitive version by Stevie Ray Vaughan. Sting?
Really?” Whit’s body language now spoke volumes.
The whole bar gasped. Silence. All that could be heard was the slow parade of sweatlets dripping down Moe’s face into his hot toddy. Moe reached for his cashmere scarf to wipe his brow. Whit remained ice cold. These two old friends, so sure in their conviction, stood their ground. Band co-manager Joe leapt into action, playing each version for me so I could understand the depth and seriousness of this standoff. Each made a violent case for their version, screaming and yelling and finger pointing until I finally heard the words “I quit the band.” POOF. Moe was gone. Stone Pages were no longer.
Time passed. Snow fell. Drinks were made. Fries were
eaten. Moe considered starting another band called Pages of Stone. Whit
countered with a text to
actor/director/guitarist/lead singer/drummer Peter Berg asking his availability. Berg came back within seconds, “It’s my band now.” Things were officially out of control.
It was a long time before the two men spoke again. Maybe even a full 7 minutes. When the dust had cleared and the egos had slackened, an olive branch appeared. By whom remains unclear. Stone Pages would live to play another gig. This was a huge relief to band co-managers Bruce and Joe as they had already sold out Albania’s national stadium. Now was not the time to quit. It was a time to stand together, united, no matter the taste differences. And with the clink of pint glasses and an uncomfortably long embrace, Stone Pages reunited.
The rest of this day had the palpable buzz of a Reunion. As if Whit and Moe had just seen each other’s greatness for the very first time. There were smiles. Laughter.
Excitement. More lingering hugs. They even got four fifths of the band back together that night to celebrate the reconciliation. It was a magical sight. That said, I think I heard Moe tell the beautifully coiffed backup singer “You’re out of the band.” Why? Not clear. Nobody was available to comment on this when I followed up the next day.
Like every great band, Stone Pages have experienced tumult. But if I’ve learned anything over the years interviewing countless bands, it’s that those with grit, vision, heart and money, persevere. And these fuckers have it all in spades. London’s calling. Until next time, keep on rockin’ in the free world boys.
*Moe’s cashmere scarf can be found at boutique R Derwin, Litchfield, CT.