Brighton High School remembers its New Wave/retro punk/Art punk past: The De Grads

Brighton High School remembers its New Wave/retro punk/Art punk past: The De Grads

De Grads at the University of Rochester @1983 [Photos: De Grads]

Recently, the Brighton High School newspaper,The Trapezoid, did a nice retrospective on the De Grads, an art Punk band from the early to mid 1980s formed by then Brighton High students and recent alums.  The solid and well written piece fits well within Trapezoid ‘s long and award winning tradition.

In the article (below), Adita Tangirala interviews brothers Sam Elwitt and Jonathon Caws-Elwitt — both have since pursued successful music and writing careers — and takes us back to the pre-digital era when Brighton students made and performed their own homegrown music.  And — not incidentally — an era when the drinking age was 18. (The NY drinking age became 19 in December 1983, then 21 in December 1985.)

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Sam Elwitt, Jon Caws-Elwitt, Mitchell Mutz, Alfred Woo, Philip Michael Brown, David J. Cohen

To learn some more about the De Grads, I turned to my friend Stephen Shapiro, BHS ’82, who now teaches English in England.

While not in the band, Stephen was a regular in the Rochester music scene. Visiting Rochester when he can, these days Stephen especially likes Dinosaur, Lux  and Abilene’s.

Describing the De Grads  as “retro punk,” Stephen looks back at a mini-Golden Age for downtown Rochester live music, one that can be a model as the inside Inner Loop is revitalized.

A Black soul/Rhythm & Blues club, Ruth and Irv’s Astrological Fish & Steak (88 North street, catty corner from Jim’s in the Liberty Pole area), was short lived, but known for its fixed drink price ($1.50). Ruth and Irv’s  was one of the cluster of Rochester clubs that booked New Wave/retro-punk bands.

Schatzee’s , a very small place a few blocks away from Scorgies at 21 Richmond Street

The very early 80s, in retrospect, were a mini-Golden Age for downtown Rochester live music, with several clubs (Scorgie’s  being the lead). A mainstay was the Calabash Lounge  (265 N. Clinton St, which closed in 1987), a destination club to hear reggae in the 1980s.

A new band like the De Grads  had several places to gig, and Rochester had on for a time a few contenders for indy break outs, like New Math  and The Chesterfield Kings , a “paisley underground” group (who the De Grads  opened for).

In recent discussions of how to revitalise downtown, it is worth looking back at this period to ask a model for a hive of activity running from Andrews Street (Scorgies) to the Liberty Pole area at a time when the city centre was said to be in decline. Several of these had mixed-race clientele, rare for Rochester, as white New Wavers were interspersed with Black disco fans.

As Stephen’s hive of activity attests, downtown Rochester was never really dead and can be more alive than ever.  Time for a De Grad  reunion concert at the Rochester Club Ballroom!

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The Trapezoid [Provided by Dean Tucker]

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LINER NOTES: “This American group of Rochester released a single in 1983 and 8 new tracks here are incredible LP. Buzzcocks trend group but not that ….. Indeed, Television, Lou Reed, The Doors, Shoes and punk Arty also called on these 10 tracks dating back to 1983. The group consists among other brothers Jonathan Caws-Elwitt and Sam Elwitt, good at crushing, childish ditties, an ins / exhaustion of these influences that give enjoyable results with a singer who imposes unavoidable melodies thanks to its multiple variations of tone. 500 copies.” – Chameleon.


a review from the 80s, Trouser Press


recently discovered autographed copy from 1983

You can hear the De Grads here

(left to right) David Cohen, Sam Elwitt, Mitchell Mutz

 More on The Trapezoid  and Galaxy and the BHS Alumni author display case below

A poem from former Degrad Jonathan Caws-Elwitt, BHS ’80. And advice to young writers.

In grand fashion, Brighton celebrates its volleyball champions and the first Boys state team sports title in school history

In search of Shirley Jackson and finding the Brighton High School Alumni author display case

About The Author

Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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