Yes, I formed a band a few years back called Bernie and the Invisibles. It all happened when this slush started seeping into the holes in my shoes as I waddled down the Avenues of the East Village. It occurred to me that no one in NY was interested in forming a band with me. So, as I was on the verge of pneumonia due to the seeping slush, I said, "Aha! I will call my band Bernie and the Invisibles!"
I got an audition at CBGB's on January 23rd, 1978. Despite the great audience reception my "band" got, I was not asked to come back. The door-man told me my act "still needs work". So, when I was almost broke, I went back to Cleveland and met a drummer (Peter Ball) who lived in a Bratenahl mansion. Soon we were able to be a backup band for the Pagans after a very productive meeting with their Mgr. Johnny Dromette.
We got to play a bunch of seedy bars around town, which got us some exposure. Now, it must be said that half of what is written in my bio is true and half of it isn't. (I'm not going to tell you what is and what ain't.)
And, yes, I'm still alive despite almost having given it up due to a car hitting me on foot in late March of 2003. Now, I am not too disappointed that my band never "made it" by signing a big record contract or playing in football stadiums.
I was never in it for the money. I was in it because so many bands are/were both lame and have almost nothing worthwhile to say. I hope people found the Invisibles to be an alternative to all that. I was happy that I met the Pagans because they struck me as having an attitude. I like that. I wanted to prove that I could play on the same bill as they did. I hope I succeeded.
My most enjoyable concert was my debut at the Pop Shop borrowing drummer Linda from the Easter Monkeys. My least enjoyable concert was my debut at Swanky's in Athens Ohio. I saw a Beyond Bizarre program recently that said that Ohio U. is haunted with all the tortured souls of those who were lobotomized. It was creepy as hell, so yes, I hitched back to my beloved town of Cleveland! I was not and still am not angry about it. I just needed to skedaddle! I am also not too bummed out that I did not get too much wax out with Bernie and the Invisibles songs on them.
I thank Mike Hudson for putting my band on two Cleveland Confidential sampler albums. If someone wishes to put out a bootleg Invisibles album that's fine with me. But as I said, I was never in it for the money. And if this album ever occurs, and you are thinking of listening to it please remember that there are many bands who have a better singer than I am, there are many bands who have a better guitar player than I am, there are many bands who have better musicians than I did, but very few bands that have had the magic my band had when we were at our best. You either loved us or you hated us. Either way, I appreciated it all...
Thank You!!! Truly,
Bernie Joelson, quite out of the blue, submitted the above story to ClePunk.com back in 2005. Recently, I was preparing to write the bio for the Bernie & The Invisibles 2020 induction into the ClePunk Hall Of Fame. In fact, after tracking Bernie down, a time and date had been set for us to meet.
I was going over questions in my head, mentally readying for the get together, when I remembered the bio Bernie had submitted all those years earlier. It occurred to me right there and then, that would be the one to use, as no one could tell the story better than Bernie himself...
I thought about cancelling the meeting, knowing the task at hand had already been completed, but the more I thought about it, the more I knew I had to go. I'd seen Bernie & The Invisibles, many many times in fact, opening for the Pagans back in 1979, yet I had never met him. I knew I'd forever be kicking myself in the ass if I passed on a chance to sit and talk with him.
So on a brisk, end of summer Sunday morning, we meet at Peace Park in Cleveland Heights. There is a small brick circle at the Coventry end of the park, with four blue benches. It sits completely shaded under a group of short trees. Bernie has arrived first, and as I approach I notice a Hennessy box next to him on the bench. He looks up from his book and we exchange simple pleasantries.
We talk for a good ninety minutes and conversation flows easily for the most part. There are sudden moments of confusion and silence however, when we just seem to be in two different worlds. Bernie is naïve and charming. He's still the guy I remember on a stage all those years ago fascinating me, so different than the rest, and Bernie is still a genius. I would later recount the meeting to Charles Abou-Chebl (My Mind's Eye) and he would say to me, "we're just mere mortals Cheese, he's Bernie."
Bernie tells me he was born in Florida in 1953, the son of a military man. He tells me the family moved a lot. He tells me the 1974 New York Dolls' album was the one that blew his mind. "So bold, the attitude!" he says and then breaks into song, "and now you're walking, just like you're ten foot tall..."
Recalling gigs he did prior to starting Bernie & The Invisibles, Bernie tells of one that he did with David Thomas on drums. "He was Crocus then. Croc O' Bush. He just flailed his arms, wildly. There was another guitar player and there was a bass player. I was on guitar and vocals. David said it was so bad that it was good. I think it was at some Slovenian Workmen's Home over by Lakeshore."
He gets philosophical a lot. And this is when he transcends to the stratosphere. One tale he tells me is of a mirror, broken into a million pieces, and each piece reflects the same image of when it was one piece and it's all just one piece, one truth. How each leaf on the tree is the whole tree. He has the aforementioned Hennessy box with him and tells me that he found it on his bus ride to the park. He ties it in with playing at Hennessy's. He has a paperback book, recently found as well, regarding the afterlife and relates it to his cut "Eventually", which appeared on the infamous Cleveland Confidential 7" EP.
Bernie comes alive at moments, talking about certain songs, and freely belts out the lyrics. A group of teenage girls walk by while he is singing and they don't blink an eye. A fit couple in their 40s, trotting past with their golden retriever, are also oblivious to the guy on the bench singing. It's a surreal moment for me. I think about the oblivion Bernie's music and Bernie himself has lived in, but it feels so natural and it takes me back. It's Bernie, full of confidence like he was 40 years ago, on a stage, joined by visible or invisible members, entertaining a crowd with joy, no matter the size of it. He's naïve, he's charming, he's genius and he's just singing his songs.
"C'mon, I will drive you home", I tell him, "the hell with the bus."
He has me drop him off, at a busy intersection, away from his residence. My guess is he likes to keep the location a secret. I watch Bernie cross the street at the light and head back in the direction we just came from. I've got the windows down and I'm feeling pretty good. I think he had enjoyed our time together as much as I had. I take another glance in the side view mirror and Bernie has vanished from sight. Something about that breaks my heart.
Vocal (lead), Guitar
"And then there were Bernie and the Invisibles. I toured with this guy one time and he got mad at us and walked all the way home from Columbus to Cleveland, Ohio which is about two hundred miles.
His mercurial nature was responsible for the fact that his only commercially released tracks were the live cuts on the two Cleveland Confidentials. When he first started playing out at CBGBs with the Talking Heads or in our home town with us and the Cramps, it was just him and the electric guitar, hence the band name Invisibles.
Later, he got a couple of guys to play bass and drums and in fact recorded an entire album with Tony Maimone of Pere Ubu producing, featuring such classics as "Chinese Church" and "PCP". Maybe somebody will have brains enough to put it out someday.
Somebody told me Bernie was dead a couple of years ago. And then I heard he was washing dishes at the YMCA at 105th Street. I live far away now and haven't been able to check it out."
Well let's see... I have a Bernie story.
My sister Laurie and I met Bernie in I would say end of 1978 or very early 1979. (My memory is a bit fuzzy too.) My story is so relative to this site because after our initial meeting where I gave Bernie a big Birthday Kiss...
He then out of the blue came over to my parents house one Friday evening.(this was March of 1979). I was somewhat exhausted from working my mail room job at Motch and Merryweather Sawblade Mfg. Inc., but there was the knock on the door and low and behold it was that Bernie guy.
Well we hung out in the basement of the house for a while just talking, I probably gave a swift introduction to my parents for Bernie but at the time they were like glued to their Lazy Boy Recliners and not much interested in anything except making sure we were not smoking pot, of course all the siblings definately were, and their were six of us.
Anyway there was no way we were going to hang out at my folk's house so I assembled my needs for the evening which included a warm bottle of beer hidden in the rafters of the basement and whatever was left from my stash of smoke. ( Bernie did not partake in any of this) So, he suggests we take a bus to Mike Hudson's house which we did and I think that was around East 200th street in Euclid somewhere, Or did we walk? ( it was a very rainy evening I might add.) I think we were a surprise visit there but never the less we all pile into this car and drive to a party in Richmond or Highland Hts.
The Party was in honor of David Thomas's girlfriend Lynn who was going back to England. I remember being quite high and fascinated at all the guest... Band people and all. People I had seen around but too shy to really talk to. I am left somewhat alone because Bernie had been talking to some friends. I ended up talking most of the night with Tony Maimone and his buddy Mik Melon. (Does any one remember this party?
Ties were handed out and a single played constantly which was Tv O.d. Tv O.d.) The evening was pretty good but I was a bit ruffled when Bernie tells me he is leaving with Johnny Dromette and asks Tony if he would drive me home...I hardley knew the guy but I thought his friend Mik was kinda cute.
So Tony drives me home. Very gentle man like I might add. The next day he calls and asks me if I would join him for a film at the Art Museum. and I did. We went to the Plaza later and their was his friend Mik, in the parking lot passed out from the evening before. Good thing there was a matress by the dumpster.
Well after that Tony and I hung together for about eight years got married and the whole bit. Now he lives in Brooklyn. So maybe this story encompasses more of the people in the scene of the day, and living at the Plaza was one of the most rewarding times of my life. I miss alot of the people there, some have passed on too.
But thanks to Bernie whom I still see once in a great while and always has some words of wisdom to share, my life had taken a turn on a path that has been filled with many a great time. I have been really lucky in some ways and I am still learning about alot of the twists and turns of that path and all it's avenues.
I first met Bernie at a restaurant where we both worked, myself a busboy and he a dishwasher. I'd first heard of him five years earlier from my dorm friends/bandmates (at ohio U.) who'd worked/hung at the Drome record store.
We started to talk a bit about music, and at one point he told me something that I will always remember, that dishwashing had taught him him everything he knew about rock 'n roll (maybe it was vice versa, no matter). If you've ever really washed dishes, then you've seen the connection.
Not too long after this, my group had a gig at the Pop Shop and we could choose our own opening band. I asked Bernie and he agreed to do it. The set was a treat - Bernie singing and playing one of our guitars and Linda Hudson from the Easter Monkeys on drums.
It was great, someone was heckling Bernie, but his comebacks made it seem like the heckler was a plant (example: "Hey Bernie, where are the invisibles? Bernie's answer: "in New York" at which point he launched into his tune "In New York". Perfect. I still see him around every once in a while; it's always good to see him.