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Song hits sour note with city residents

August 04, 1998|By JULIE E. GREENE

The melody is pleasant, but the picture that singer/songwriter Mad Anthony Wayne's lyrics paint of Hagerstown is one some residents might not appreciate.

The tune on his 1998 "The Human Windchill Factor" album takes Wayne back to the days when he was growing up here.

"Cotton candy bouffant hair" and "polyester stretch pants moms" are some of the images conjured up early in the song. Later, there are specters of a laid-off brother-in-law and downtown stores Wayne noticed had closed when he returned as an adult.

There's "definitely sarcasm" in "Hagerstown," a song he describes as a metaphor for all small towns, said Wayne, 46, in a telephone interview from his Portland, Maine, home.

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People don't see much bouffant hair or many row houses these days, but both can still be found in Hagerstown, said Wayne, whose real name is Anthony Wayne Mellott.

"It seems to be filtering out and a new generation is coming in. Whether that's good or bad I don't know," Wayne said.

To those who are bothered by Wayne's musical depiction of Hagerstown, he says, "I'm sorry you're offended by it, but it is a truth and it's part of the town. I didn't make this up."

Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said he liked the song's rhythm, but the only lyric that reminded him of his childhood mentioned a 1968 Malibu.

"This is a guy who has his own view of what Hagerstown meant to him," Bruchey said. "When was the last time you saw someone walking around with cotton candy and bouffant hair? Twenty years ago," he said.

Carl Disque, who helped organize the Western Maryland Blues Fest, said he found the song "kind of depressing," and said it "seemed dated and unoptimistic."

Disque said the vignettes of "down and out" images Wayne used are popular in many forms of music because they are images that stand out.

One of those images deals with a working class view of the North End.

"And the north enders peel

Off their daddy's wheels.

The chosin', posin', for the working class.

They'll charge that first exit.

Put it on the old man's credit,

Objects in the mirror disappearing fast."

"When I was growing up anybody that went to college was considered Communist, gay, rich - now it's accepted," Wayne said.

Wayne describes the Hagerstown of his youth as a factory town where many people were employed by Pangborn, Mack or Fairchild. There was an underlying resentment of North End residents, who had money and whose kids were going to get out of town as soon as possible, he said.

On a recent trip back home to visit family, Wayne went through downtown and found the area "scary," he said.

The downtown where he used to hang out when he wasn't cruising the Dual was full of closed stores, including the old Peoples drug store, he said.

Wayne lived on South Potomac Street and attended Howard Street Elementary School until he was about 7 years old, he said.

He returned to the area for a year when he was 14, living with his grandmother on Wood Street in the East End. He would play nearby in the horse stalls at the Hagerstown Fairgrounds, he said.

He also visited the city during his senior year at Chambersburg Area High School, he said.

Wayne said he remembers the city's tough neighborhoods. Once during his senior year he was heading down Locust Street when he looked down a side street and saw a guy on the street with his head busted, he said.

"There's a guy with an ax swinging it at a guy with a tire jack, trying to block the tire jack," he said.

There are still beautiful areas in Hagerstown, Wayne said.

"It's definitely changing. This is a strange thing to say about Hagerstown. It's more progressive than it was 10 years ago," Wayne said.

The city has always been "a little bit behind the times, sometimes much behind the times," he said.

Wayne characterizes his music as "full-contact folk" or "guerrilla folk," because it's more aggressive than traditional folk music.

There also are pieces of straight rock or blues on the album.

Music is now a full-time job for Wayne, who said he used to be a social worker, working with socially disturbed teens.

Whether he would perform in his hometown depends upon the venue, he said. Wayne said he performs for audiences who listen or more cerebral crowds.

"I'm real selective," he said.

Residents interested in buying any of Wayne's albums are in for a challenge. Other than some Florida stores, Wayne said he wasn't sure how people could order them.

Wayne is hard to reach, bouncing back and forth between Portland, Maine - where he writes his music - and Texas - where he deals with the business side, including promotion and manufacturing.

Wayne's fifth album, "Rock me til I quit screaming," is due out this summer.

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