Apr 04, 2023, 05:57AM

The Cosmos of Cosmo Ohms

Cosmo was a love child of the 1960s.

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This began with a phone call from Florida film and magazine editor Andrew Singer. We discussed a documentary project he’s working on about the legendary singer Root Boy Slim. He asked if I believe Root Boy Slim was/is the King of Punk? At first, I thought he was yanking my rope, but he was serious. The fact that Root Boy had stated on numerous occasions he was the King of Punk, whether seriously or joking, it’s funny either way. I guess he was punk as anybody in the scene was back then. Looking back, we didn’t run call ourselves punk rockers. It was implied.

I mentioned that my punk band opened for Root Boy a few times, and also partied with him a lot at Baltimore’s Marble Bar and South Baltimore’s 8 × 10 Club. I added that we played and recorded live at CBGB’s in 1978. He was interested in our band Da Moronics and said he’d love to include us in his Punk magazine and use some Moronics songs in the soundtrack to another doc he’s involved with about punk history. He asked if I remembered the sound guy who recorded us that night. I did, but didn’t recall much else except it cost us $75 bucks for the recording of the live set on reel-to-reel tape. If memory serves anything, it’s how to forget.

The sound quality of that tape was exceptional for a live recording on the fly. A call went out to CosmoOhms. We began a series of conversations and a new friendship from an old chance meeting. Here is Cosmo Ohms, sound & light tech for CBGB’s OMFUG on the Bowery in what was then NYC’s Skid Row. Cosmo designed the logo using carny-style font lettering, creating a worldwide, instantly recognizable image.

Ohms was portrayed not long ago in the Hollywood movie version of CBGBs story as the guy who did lights and sound at the club. He also doubled as the cook in the kitchen who made the chili they served. One big happy dysfunctional family rocking and rolling along on their way to punk rock history. The club’s owner, Hilly Kristal, always introduced Cosmo as the resident hippie.

Cosmo was a love child of the 1960s. He embraced surfing while living in Hawaii. He rode those killer waves and was inspired by listening to The Beach Boys, The Ventures, Dick Dale and other bands that put a spin on California surf culture. He even carried a photo of Disney’s Mouseketeer Annette Funicello in his wallet as every young boy's ideal dream surfer girl. Annette was the star teen heartthrob sweetheart in the beach movies cranked out regularly in the early-1960s. She was gal pal to Frankie Avalon, the teenage crooner sensation. Those campy flicks, like Beach Blanket Bingo, and Where The Boys Are, were kitschy, corny fun.

Like a lot of kids back then, Cosmo started playing guitar, emulating the twangy, heavy reverb sound of instrumental surf music. His father, who was also in the songwriting end of the music biz, would echo the classic phrase every kid with an electric guitar heard, Turn It Down! His first band, The Gents Five, not to be confused with the do-wop band The Five Gents, started a lifelong musical journey for starry-eyed Cosmo. Dropping out of dental school, he livedthe sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll crazy train ride. That led him to learning how to play the sitar, hanging out with the SDS, and forming a group known as the Theater of Madness. The original Theater of Madness was a rock band heavy on theatrics, rock opera and satire. Imagine Alice Cooper married to the comedy troupe Firesign Theater by way of the Tubes and Monty Python.

Theater of Madness had success opening for national acts like Jefferson Airplane and The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, while playing big festivals and concert venues. Cosmo’s 1977 band Startoon and their song “Rockin’ on the Bowery” was recently included in (founding member and guitarist for Patti Smith), Lenny Kaye’s compilation Lightning Striking. The illuminating book and double-disc CD set of historic recordings chronicling the definitive timeline of rock ‘n’ roll’s rise and ascension to the heights of musical glory. Cosmo’s a rare dude who’s done it all, a good guy in a not always good business. He not only did sound and stage lighting for CBGBs, but also clubs like Studio 54, The Palladium, and Peppermint Lounge, to name a few. Working with bands from one end of the spectrum, like The Grateful Dead, to the opposite end of every punk band you can think of. He's still going strong. It’s a cosmic thing.


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