Tag Archives: Fred Cantor

Fred Cantor’s Timeless Westport

As an alert “06880” reader, Fred Cantor has seen comments on every side of every debate about the changing nature of Westport.

As someone who came to Westport in 1963, Fred has seen many of those changes himself.

An accomplished attorney, film and play producer and writer, Fred has spent years taking photos around town. Recently, he asked Staples grad Casey Denton to help create a video of those shots.

Fred’s goal was simple. He wanted to document his belief that the essence of Westport’s beauty and small-town New England character — which his family discovered upon moving here over 5 decades ago — remains alive and well.

The video opens with long-ago Westport scenes. There are photos of mom-and-pop stores, the kind that filled Main Street back in the day. Obviously, that’s changed.

But most of the photos are from the recent past — many taken within the past year. And, Fred notes, they are “timeless Westport scenes.” Churches, barns, the Saugatuck bridge, the Minuteman and Doughboy statues, the Mill Pond and cannons — we are surrounded by wonderful history and spectacular beauty.

Fred knows that family businesses are very much with us. From long-time establishments (Oscar’s, Mario’s) to relative newcomers (Elvira’s, Saugatuck Sweets), there are more here than we realize.

Finally, Fred wanted to show that institutions like the Library, Westport Country Playhouse and Levitt Pavilion have been significantly upgraded over the years. The entire community benefits, Fred says, from “the strong commitment to the arts that existed when my parents brought us here over 50 years ago.”

Fred knows this is the perspective of just one near-native. But, he says — as health problems limit how far he can go from home — he is glad he can notice and appreciate more than ever what is right around all of us.


Westport At The Crossroads

Fred Cantor is an alert “06880” reader — and a talented researcher with an eye for intriguing stories about Westport’s past.

The other day, he sent 4 clippings from the New York Times. All were from 50 years ago. Westport was in the midst of a historic transformation, Fred said, as the town’s population rocketed skyward.

On February 2, 1964, 1st Selectman Herb Baldwin announced the formation of a Development Commission. The aim was to attract light industry, thus broadening the tax base.

“The move grew out of a recent fiscal seminar where concern was voiced over the town’s high bonded indebtedness, principally due to school construction,” the Times reported. The debt was approximately $12 million.

On June 26, the Planning and Zoning Commission tightened restrictions against new apartment buildings — despite acknowledging the need for apartments serving “older people and young married couples.” The previous day, the Zoning Board of Appeals denied an application for construction of a 48-unit apartment on the site of the Tennex factory on Riverside Avenue.

Many of today's familiar Riverside Avenue buildings were once factories.

Many of today’s familiar Riverside Avenue buildings were once factories.

On October 4, 1964, the Times said that a group of Greens Farms property owners were  “aroused by a proposal to build a department store, a supermarket and a parking lot for 617 cars in their midst, two miles east of the town’s center.” The centerpiece would be an Arnold Constable store.

Opponents cited a traffic hazard for students at nearby Green’s Farms Elementary School, and destruction of the “rustic charm” of the area. One person said, “We don’t want to turn Westport into another Rye or New Rochelle.”

Proponents countered it would add “sorely needed town revenue. They say the chief reason the town has sunk into debt over the last 20 years is that it has resisted business growth.”

The 7 1/2-acre property — bounded by South Morningside Drive and Church Street — would add between $40,000 and $52,430 a year in taxes.

Years after it was proposed, a shopping center was built near Greens Farms Elementary School.

Years after it was proposed, a shopping center was built near Greens Farms Elementary School.

Two months later, the P&Z proposed action to reverse the “hodgepodge” and “visual mayhem” — town officials’ words — of the Post Road. Fifteen properties along busy Route 1 would need special permits for development. New zones would be limited by “natural boundaries, such as topography, existing streets or similar barriers.”

Included was the Greens Farms tract. It took a number of years, but the shopping center — anchored today by Barnes & Noble — eventually was built.

Half a century later, some things haven’t changed. Westporters still debate property taxes and affordable housing.

But we no longer argue about shopping centers. They’re here, they’re there, they’re everywhere.

There’s nowhere left to put a new one.

The Calm After The Storm

Once today’s storm passed, Fred Cantor headed to Compo Beach. Here’s the serene scene:

(Photo/Fred Cantor)

(Photo/Fred Cantor)

Plus, he reports, Joey’s was open.

If You Teach Some Kids To Fish…

Summer vacation ends with a crash on Monday. The 1st day of school is ominously close.

But last evening, a mother gave a lesson of a different type to her kids. Alert “06880” reader Fred Cantor was at Old Mill Beach, and captured this classic Westport scene:

Fishing lesson at Old Mill Beach - Fred Cantor

Willow Tree, Very Pretty

Alert “06880” reader Fred Cantor sends along a photo — and some comments and questions.

Willow - Fred Cantor

Fred says:

I remembered this spectacular tree from last year, on Clapboard Hill Road near Maple Avenue. My wife Debbie and I drove by yesterday afternoon to see if the spring blossoms are still as stunning this year. My photo doesn’t do it justice, but I think “06880” readers will get a sense of how magical this tree is.

Does anyone know what kind of tree it is? It looks like a weeping willow. but I have never seen one with blossoms like these. And I have never seen another tree quite like it elsewhere in Westport.

“06880” readers: help Fred! 

And no, this is NOT a tree that is planned to be cut down.

We hope.



Westport And Tyson Chandler: “The Minister Of D”

In 2010, Staples grad Fred Cantor co-wrote “Monbo Time.” It was a paean to pitcher Bill Monbouqette Monbouquette, and 40 years of Red Sox history.

The legendary Remains — a band that got their start in Boston, but whose lead singer Barry Tashian and keyboardist Bill Briggs called Westport home — recorded the song. They donated half of all revenues from it to cancer research and treatment.

Fred Cantor

Fred Cantor

But Fred is not a Red Sox fan. He loves basketball, and has been a New York Knicks fanatic since before the championship days of Willis and Walt.

So for his encore sports-songwriting effort — again for charity — he’s gone to the hoop.

Fred — who in real life is an attorney — chose Tyson Chandler. The veteran center “epitomizes selfless team play,” Fred says. “I really appreciate that, not only as a longtime fan but also having played on successful soccer teams at Staples and Yale.”

If the Knicks win an NBA title for the 1st time in 4 decades — since Fred was young — Tyson will be key.

Tyson Chandler

Tyson Chandler

First, Fred wrote some lyrics that capture the essence of Tyson’s game. Then he decided to give him a nickname. “I feel he deserves even greater recognition than he’s gotten,” the songwriter says.

Which is how Tyson Chandler became “The Minister of D.”

Next, Fred called Charlie Karp and Michael Mugrage. Both are Staples classmates of Fred’s — and friends dating back to Coleytown Elementary and Coleytown Junior High, respectively.

They’re hugely talented musicians. Charlie left Staples to join Buddy Miles’ band. He played at Jimi Hendrix’s memorial service, and earned a devoted local following with bands like White Chocolate, Dirty Angels and Slo Leak.

Michael toured with Orleans, and composed music for Chaka Khan, Smokey Robinson and Terry Cashman’s classic “Talkin’ Baseball.”

Michael Mugrage (center) and Charlie Karp (right) record "The Minister of D," with sound engineer Tom Hawes.

Michael Mugrage (center) and Charlie Karp (right) record “The Minister of D,” with sound engineer Tom Hawes.

“I wanted a song that combined different elements,” Fred explains. “The lyrics were to be rapped, but I also wanted a funk sound that evokes the era when the Knicks won their 2 titles. And I wanted the song to be part rock.”

“We wanted the music to harken back to the glory days of the Knicks of the early ’70s,” Michael told TheKnicksBlog. The site describes that “New York cool” time of Sly and the Family Stone, and Isaac Hayes, as “an era one imagines Tyson would  have felt right at home in.”

Within minutes of getting together, Charlie and Michael nailed it. After a bit more work, they recorded it with sound engineer Tom Hawes.

They continued to improvise, taking turns on lead and bass guitar, and sharing vocals in different octaves to create harmonies (and a “big group” sound). At the end, they created crowd noise to mimic the Garden.

Tyson’s reps say he is honored by the song. He feels good too that 25% of the royalties go to the Garden of Dreams Foundation, benefiting kids facing obstacles.

And Fred no doubt feels good that he’s written a song about favorite team. Not the Red Sox.

(Click here to hear “The Minister of D.” Search “Charlie Karp & Mike Mugrage” on iTunes to buy it.)

The cover, as it appears on iTunes. It's a ticket stub from a game Fred went to the 1st week the new Madison Square Garden opened. Fred  Cantor calls Tyson Chandler "a throwback" to that era of championship NY Knick teams.

The cover, as it appears on iTunes. It’s a ticket stub from a game Fred Cantor went to the 1st week the new Madison Square Garden opened. He calls Tyson Chandler “a throwback” to that era of championship NY Knick teams.

Remembering Kuti Zeevi

Fred Cantor was a long-time friend of Kuti Zeevi, the Westport jeweler killed during a robbery last night. For many years Fred and Kuti played soccer with the Late Knights, a group of local men who enjoyed both the game, and socializing together afterward. 

Fred remembers the Israeli-born business owner, soccer player and Westporter:

Many years ago someone told me you can learn a lot about a person by how willing he is to pass the ball and share it with teammates.

Kuti was always looking to pass to an open teammate, and it was indeed just one indication of his great generosity — both on and off the field.

Kuti Zeevi (Photo courtesy of WestportNow.com)

Kuti was part of the mini-UN weekend soccer group that has been a fixture in Westport for decades. His passion for soccer was second to none, and it was exceeded only by his passion for his family. He was a loving husband, father and son who epitomized “family values” before that term ever became part of our landscape.

Several years ago Kuti and his loving wife, Nava, suffered the loss of their daughter Tali to leukemia.  While nothing could possibly make up for that tragic loss, Kuti’s soccer teammates tried to offer some level of comfort by staging a soccer tournament to raise money for leukemia research in Tali’s memory.

Kuti, in his selfless fashion, expressed how grateful he was to all of us for organizing the event.

Even though he had some major injuries in his later years, they never dampened his enthusiasm for playing soccer and for competing.  Even when he could no longer run much, he loved to play goalie and wouldn’t hesitate to throw his body on the ground, outstretched, in an attempt to make a save.

There was still a boyish spirit that remained inside him — one that I thought would never succumb to old age — and that was only snuffed out by a murderer’s bullet.

We will all miss Kuti’s smile, and his laugh, and his joy for the game.

And our hearts and thoughts are with Nava.

(A funeral service will be held this Sunday, Dec. 11, 1:30 p.m. at Temple Israel.)

Kuti Zeevi, on a trip to England with the Late Knights soccer team in 1999. He's in the middle of the back row.

Fred Cantor’s Fresh Meadows

Fred Cantor does not see the glass as half empty or half full.  In his eyes, it always overflows.

Fred finds joy wherever he lives.  A longtime Manhattan resident, he loves the city.

Fred Cantor, in his Fresh Meadows hat.

In his pre-teen years — the 1950s and early ’60s — he lived in Fresh Meadows.  That pocket of northeastern Queens — centered on a housing development built for World War II veterans, which Lewis Mumford described in the New Yorker as “perhaps the most positive and exhilarating example of large-scale community planning in this country” — is the focus of Fred’s new book.

He and co-author Debra Davidson have chronicled the history of their neighborhood in Fresh Meadows, a photo project that’s part of the “Images of America” series.

But this story is not about Queens or Manhattan.  It’s about Westport, and what Fred has learned growing up here, then returning to live full time.

(Full disclosure:  Fred is one of my oldest and best friends from high school.  He’s also a frequent commenter on “06880.”)

“I am fortunate to have grown up in 2 special hometowns,” Fred says.

“Each has given me an appreciation for the other that I might not otherwise have — especially regarding some things many people take for granted here in Westport.”

In Westport — where he moved in 1963 — Fred says that he immediately noticed “the beauty of the stone walls,” something notably missing from Fresh Meadows.  To this day, he still marvels at the sight.

Fred finds beauty too at Compo Beach.  “I was always taken with the sweeping crescent shape, leading out to the green expanse of Sherwood Island,” he says.

Long Beach– his beach in Queens — was “your typical straight line of sand facing the water.”

The view at Longshore — looking out on the marina to Cockenoe and beyond — was “so different than anything I had experienced in Queens,” he says.

“I still enjoy that view when I’m at the Longshore pool.  It’s like being at a great vacation resort.”

Fred wonders if people who grew up here appreciate that in the same way.

Sid, Pearl and Fred Cantor, at home in Westport.

He says he always thought of “the open area and architecture in the area of Toquet Hall and the old Westport Bank & Trust (now Patagonia) as quintessential small-town America, and an old-fashioned town square.”

That too is far different from what he had — and loved — in Queens.

Plus, Fred says, “when we moved here there was a corner drug store, Thompson’s, where Tiffany’s is now located.  It had a lunch counter that served milkshakes.” He felt like he’d walked onto the set of “Leave it to Beaver.”

Living in Westport gave Fred an appreciation of how he could walk to nearly  everything in Fresh Meadows — a direct result of the community’s site plan.  In Westport, he depended on his mother for rides.

In Fresh Meadows Fred lived in a small 2-bedroom, 1-bath apartment — and was quite happy.  That experience, he says, “taught me that you really don’t need a big home or a lot of possessions to truly enjoy life.”  To this day, he says, “I have never lived in a big house.”

Of course, Fred wonders what might have happened if his parents had not made the move.

“Chances are I wouldn’t have discovered soccer or The Remains” — 2 of his passions.

And, he says, “I probably would not have been accepted at Yale, since the local high school in Fresh Meadows had nowhere near the reputation that Staples did.”

The fact that Fred (an attorney) conceived and worked on a variety of diverse creative projects as an adult — producing a play and a movie, writing a book, co-writing a song paying tribute to former Red Sox pitcher Bill Monbouquette — “is probably in some way a reflection of having grown up in Westport, where there has always been such an emphasis on the arts,” Fred says.

“Obviously, the move to Westport as a kid enriched my life in so many ways.”

Fred concludes:  “This is probably way more info than you needed.  But all of this has gotten me to do a lot of reflecting on this lately.”

Actually, Fred’s insights are perfect.  All of us are a reflection of when and how we grew up — and where.

Not all of us are lucky enough to have both a Fresh Meadows, and a Westport, in our lives.

(Click here for a New York Daily News story on Fred Cantor’s new book.)

Monbo Time

In the summer of 1966, the Standells hit it big with “Dirty Water.”  And the Remains toured with the Beatles.

I never understood why the Standells — a California garage band — sang about “the River Charles,” and said, “Boston, you’re my home.”

The Remains then...

I cared much more about the Remains.  Though they never had a smash like “Dirty Water,” they’re revered now as “America’s greatest lost band.”  They were, Jon Landau said — channeling John Sebastian — “How you tell a stranger about rock and roll.”

And — though they began at Boston University, and are forever associated with that city — lead singer Barry Tashian and keyboardist Bill Briggs are Staples grads.

“Dirty Water” lives on.  For years, the Red Sox have played the song after home wins.

The Remains knew about baseball too — on the Beatles’ final tour, they opened for them at places like Shea Stadium, Dodger Stadium and Candlestick Park.

The Standells — 1-hit wonders — are long gone.  But the Remains have reunited, playing concerts to adoring fans here and in Europe.

Now they’re ready to take on Fenway Park.

Westporter Fred Cantor took a 2002 Remains song — “Time Keeps Movin’ On” — and co-wrote new lyrics.  The new song is “Monbo Time” — a tribute to former Sox pitcher Bill Monbouquette.

...and now.

It’s also a paean to the past 40 years of Red Sox history.  There are references to Yaz, Jim Lonborg, Bernie Carbo’s historic home run, Pudge Fisk, Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, Manny Ramirez — even announcers Ken Coleman and Ned Martin, and the Citgo sign.

But “Monbo” — a 3-time All-Star — is key.  Now 73, he has leukemia — fortunately, in remission.

To honor “Monbo” — and Briggs, who has been diagnosed with bladder cancer — the Remains are donating 50% of revenues from the song to cancer research and treatment.

The band’s connection to the Red Sox is real.  Myles Standish Hall — their BU dorm — is a line drive away from Fenway.  When they were rockin’ the Rathskeller — a Kenmore Square landmark — Sox outfielder Tony Conigliaro was a fan.

Cantor — an attorney and longtime Remains fan who produced both an Off-Broadway musical and a documentary about the band — sees parallels between Monbouquette and the Remains.  “Both achieved a certain level of fame,” he says.  “But neither got the recognition they deserved.”

For 44 years, “Dirty Water” has defined Boston.  Maybe now it’s “Monbo Time.”

(“Monbo Time” is available at cdbaby.com, and soon on iTunes.  For lyrics and to hear a song clip, click here.  To read more about the recording, click here.)

All That Remains

Marilyn Chambers’ untimely death earlier this week shined a spotlight on Westport, where she grew up.  But Marilyn was not the only famous member of her family.

Long before Marilyn opened the green door, her brother Billy Briggs was on his own way to stardom.  As keyboardist for the legendary Remains, Billy appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “Hullabaloo.”  He toured with the Beatles — and, with fellow Westporter Barry Tashian and 2 bandmates, camethisclose to being the greatest American rock ‘n’ roll group ever.

The Remains never made it to the top.  In the midst of that 1966 Beatles tour, they were already breaking up.

But they remain cult heroes.  Jon Landau‘s praise — “They were how you told a stranger about rock ‘n’ roll” — is as true today as it was 42 years ago.

Now, when many people their age are retiring, the Remains are finally getting their due.  On the big screen.

The Remains - Barry Tashian (2nd from left); Billy Briggs (far right)

The Remains - Barry Tashian (2nd from left); Billy Briggs (far right)

Westport native Fred Cantor — a few years younger than the Remains, but (like me) a long time ardent admirer — is the producer and driving force behind “America’s Lost Band.” That new documentary — narrated by the J. Geils Band’s Peter Wolf, another early fan — weaves rare archival footage and flashbacks with the Remains’ current lives.  Believe it or not, they’re still playing kick-ass music — including at film festivals across the country, where fans old and new  gather to worship at their altar.

“America’s Lost Band” premiered at the Boston Film Festival, to great reviews.  Screenings in Chicago and Providence played to wildly enthusiastic audiences.  Next week it’s in Nashville and Portland, Oregon; on April 28 it’s one of only 4 films picked for the “Celluloid  Heroes:  Rock ‘n’ Roll on Film” series at New Orleans’ Ponderosa Stomp Music Festival.

How good were the Remains?

Rock journalist Mark Kemp said if they had stayed together, “we might today be calling them — and not the Stones — the World’s Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Band.”

Bruce Springsteen’s guitarist, Little Steven Van Zandt, called the Remains “living history, and one of our most valued American treasures.”

And Rolling Stone magazine described them as “a religious totem of all that was manic and marvelous about mid-’60s pop.”

Billy Briggs and Barry Tashian have not forgotten their Westport roots.  They rehearse here often, in their friends Terry and Gail Coen’s basement studio.  Their many Westport friends never forgot them either.

Now — thanks to another Westporter’s passion and movie-making skills — the entire country is rediscovering them.

And now for a treat:  To hear the Remains, click here. My recommendations (from the scroll-down list that appears on the right side of the linked page):  Start with “Hang on Sloopy” and “I’m a Man,” followed by a 3rd live song: “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.”  Next, 2 album cuts: “Diddy Wah Diddy” and “Why Do I Cry.”  But whatever you listen to: CRANK IT UP!