Benjamin Bossi, of Romeo Void , passed away near midnight Dec. 13 in Marin County after suffering early onset Alzheimer’s disease diagnosed 3+ years ago. Benjamin and I kept in touch as we could through the years and I had one last visit with him Monday via FaceTime. I sang to him, God Bless the Child, Sentimental Journey, Someday Soon, A Girl in Trouble (is a temporary thing), Instincts and Paper Moon. From inside his disease he responded as he could, once again feeling a beautiful connection to him through the music. I always felt the voice of Romeo Void was the two of us together. He completed my thoughts and emotions, adding his expressive, unabashed responses. On any given night he could transform a club and a performance, his playing would encompass everything in our lives and in the world. I’m feeling so grateful to have shared so much with such an effusive, musical life energy. Losing him makes me treasure all the more all the creative collaborations I’ve had through the years. Safe travels Benjamin, you’re everywhere now. ✨🌟
On December 13, 2022, Benjamin Bossi, the saxophone playing member of Rome Void, died from complications with Alzheimer’s. He was 69 years old. He was born in San Francisco on September 7, 1953.
There are moments in your life that may seem insignificant at the time. Yet these moments set you on a life course that you could never have imagined.
In 1979 I was a student at the San Francisco Art Institute. One day, sitting in the cafeteria, I happened to meet Debora Iyall, whom was also a student there. At some point it was mentioned that I had a bass guitar and a drum machine. A collaboration was proposed and that resulted in us playing a tune called “Lunch Meat” for Debora’s Performance class.
From this innocent moment there somehow developed a band. Debora on vocals, myself on bass and two friends of Debora’s from an earlier project she had been involved in. Peter Woods on guitar and Jay Derrah on drums. And who would have known at that time that Peter and I would go on for the next 5 years to be music co-writers on just about every song that this band would record.
So for a few months, songs were written, the name Romeo Void was attached to the band, gigs were played and it seemed there were no particular high hopes of much happening beyond that. We weren’t really a “punk” band, as most of the better known bands in San Francisco at the time seemed to be. Totally disparate influences among the four members that resulted in an odd gumbo of tunes. Maybe we would record a 45 rpm record if we were lucky. And during this time there were more seemingly insignificant moments and connections that quietly prodded us along an unknown course.
Then another moment occurred that changed the game completely. Debora was with a friend, Stefano, in a deli near the Castro district of San Francisco. Stefano introduced Debora to a friend of his that was just getting off work at the deli. This young man had an interesting face and bone structure. Debora, being a painter of portraits, asked this fellow if he would sit for a portrait and he agreed. What possible consequence could that have on the other three of us? But it turned out that this sandwich maker was also an amazing saxophone player that had played with R&B and funk cover bands and was an avid jazz and John Coltrane and Mile Davis aficionado. And that innocuous meeting in the deli, in the middle of 1980, led to Benjamin Bossi becoming the saxophone player and fifth member of Romeo Void.
And from that moment there was an extra spark that complemented Peter’s guitar playing and gave the band a second voice, a dialog of sorts, to interact with Debora’s vocals. Benjamin’s playing was not in an R&B style. He brought to the band a sonic element that was both melodic and abstract. Rooted in jazz but also reflecting the angst and dissatisfaction of the time. And the combination of Debora and Benjamin on a dirge like tune that Peter and I brought to the band, “I Mean It”, was the key that led to the band finally recording an album.
Soulful performances that, for me, represent the best of our creative output.
Along with his sax playing, Benjamin also brought an incredible physical energy to the live shows. Always moving and dancing around the stage. A true performer. So many Romeo Void songs have Benjamin’s energetic contributions. But some of his best known playing is on “Nvr Say Nvr” and “A Girl In Trouble”. Two songs that show the range of his skills. His playing is so integral to both those tunes. That serendipitous meeting in the San Francisco deli led to one of the major reasons Romeo Void had the success that it did. And it definitely changed all of our lives in ways we could never have imagined in 1979.
Romeo Void disbanded in February of 1985 after a European tour. By that time, Benjamin was experiencing the beginnings of tinnitus, which troubled him for the rest of his life. He continued to play with a variety of musicians in the Bay Area and then lived in Manhattan for a while. Working at what was then called The Museum of Radio and Television and playing in music projects there.
But at some point in the 90’s Benjamin found out after meeting with a hearing specialist that his tinnitus and partial hearing loss was due to the vibrations thru his jaw from playing the saxophone. He then stopped playing the saxophone.
Benjamin moved back to the Bay Area, to Marin County where his family lived. Both his father and mother suffered from Alzheimer’s and Benjamin helped care for them. Benjamin himself eventually fell victim to the same disease. And after a prolonged battle, Benjamin passed on December 13, 2022.
I don’t know what happens when we leave our bodies and move on from this “mortal coil” but I would like to imagine that Benjamin is somewhere chatting with John Coltrane and Miles Davis.
Maybe trading licks with some of the other great musicians whom are also no longer with us.
Benjamin may have been silent on his instrument for many of the past years but his sound is well documented on numerous recordings and thru those recordings we can continue to hear and feel his passion and talent. His contribution to our world will continue to be with us. We are better for his time with us and he will be missed.
Benjamin Bossi, 9/7/1953-12/13/2022
(photo Frank Zincavage)
It seems that at sometime in August of 2021, Larry Carter passed away.
There are no further details at this time.
Larry was the drummer for Romeo Void for the Nvr Say Nvr EP and the Benefactor LP.
The calm understated arrogance. A twist on love, twisted love, never enough of that love to go around. Romeo Void songs were always about someone who was gone, someone who should leave. Romeo Void re personalized music; after a long stretch of the political and surrealistic inundation of punk, it felt good to think about ourselves and our failing love lives. Debora Iyall’s lyrics seemed to be about us, and they often were. Inside the intoxicating brew of pop melodies and dark broodings, Romeo Void songs were about friends and relatives, dreams and relationships that ended last night.
Romeo Voids initial forays were off the beaten track. The first official Romeo Void show was at the Mission Rock resort, a dockyard hangout for artists which featured a jukebox that included Frank Sinatra’s “Witchcraft” and Lou Reeds “Vicious”. At that time the scene was shifting from the Fab Mab (the Mabuhay Gardens on the stripper bar infested Broadway) to the Deaf Club and Club Foot, which was a former grocery in the no-man’s land of artists’ warehouses and derelict docks, a tiny, dark space with a stage the size of a countertop. It seemed the goal of Romeo Void was to have an experience, not to create a sensation.
The origins of the band aren’t too auspicious; the back room at the San Francisco Art Institute where they relegated performance art, a tongue-in-cheek sixties cover band and the same collection of authority smashing punk 45’s that everyone else owned. Debora Iyall was doing a piece and needed some musical accompaniment. Frank Zincavage was a sculpture student who happened to have a bass guitar and a drum machine. He claims to have been in the Bill Wyman school of bass players, stolid and barely noticeable, until punk came around. Fueled by the musical invention of Gang of Four, the Cure and Joy Division, he wanted to experiment. he worked with Peter Woods to write songs in which either the guitar or bass could carry the melody, leaving room for atmospheric guitar slashings. Peter and Frank quickly became the musical backbone of the group. Jay Derrah was the first in a revolving door of drummers; though he played the bulk of early gigs, he departed before the first album, which was recorded with Pearl Harbor’s John “Stench” Haines.
The name Romeo Void came about in Debora’s kitchen, with a tacit decision not to have a “The” name. Armed with two lists of random words, an Anais Nin book and a copy of some San Francisco magazine with the lurid buy-me headline “Why Single Women Can’t Get Laid in SF”, the choice of Romeo Void seemed obvious, natural and strangely prophetic.
The San Francisco Art Institute was already the progenitor of several other noteworthy punk bands: the Mutants were perhaps the quintessential party band, while the political slant of the Avengers provided another dialect - Romeo Void fit squarely in the middle. They weren’t too stiff to party, but a palpable rage came from matters more personal, more personal even than the oft-quoted “small p” political bands.
From the start, Romeo Void as a pop band was an absurdist’s afterthought. With songs about lost love dwelling in the language of dreams, and a musical landscape conjured up and guessed at, the fact that they were fun and danceable was double plus good. Benjamin Bossi was the only musically trained member; appropriately, he was recruited by an aroused Debora from behind the counter of a popular deli once she discovered he played saxophone. His startling talent became Romeo Void’s most recognizable signature.
Women were more on the scene than at any time in memory. Patti Smith was the goddess, the ultimate role model - sexual, aloof, headstrong. a leader of her own band. Debora joined a small group of women doing the same: Poly Styrene, Pauline Murray, Barbara Gogan in England, Penelope Houston and a handful of others in America. Debora’s opinionated, poetic frame of reference was wonderfully new.
The San Francisco scene had never had a viable alternative/independent label; The Avengers and the Dils had to go to Los Angeles to record for Dangerhouse. Howie Klein and record store owner Chris Knabb had started a new label, 415, a play on both the San Francisco area code and the police code for disturbance of the peace, and wanted a single from the band. “White Sweater”, combined with the instrumental “Apache”, used by the band during warm-ups, was the result. But producer David Kahne worked out a deal with the studio and recorded a full album. It was a mixed blessing; the muted quality was distinctly at odds with their live performances, though most observers, the band included, now consider It’s A Condition a masterful piece.
“Charred Remains” is a case in point where the production distractions can’t eclipse final outcome. In the hushed intro, Debora practically stumbles over words, trying to get them out just right. Frank and Peter together etch a line, then Frank takes off on a bass run that is the erratic heartbeat of the song. “What’s the fuss, I’m restless” has all the power of a petulant child, but it seemed a call to arms. “Myself To Myself” is the prototypical RV song of this era - “I can’t keep myself to myself” expresses the need to be out, to be vocal, to be having experiences of life and love. “I Mean It” was the closer on their debut album. Benjamin’s sax solo. piercing, emotive and long reaching, is one of his most memorable, a haunting end to something as vivid and raw as had gone before.
The EP which followed It’s A Condition was anything but a letdown. A fortuitous airing of the debut album on the tour bus of The Cars by a roadie resulted in Ric Ocasek expressing interest in Romeo Void and bang! - the band is in Boston. Nvr Say Nvr was released on 415 and was instrumental in getting a licensing deal set up with Columbia, which released the EP. Great songs. Passion. Inspired playing. “In The Dark”, is as compelling as the title track, Benjamin’s sax is a clarion before the band comes in tight, closely compacted, each making their contribution to the melody, the sum greatly outweighing any individual effort. Frank remembers the interactive, but not improvisational, style they had, always allowing for change and chance within the structure. Debora’s voice is finally captured in it’s element: she snarls and drips with lament and anger, her self-serving dispassion keeping her only from murder or boredom.
And then there’s the song; and for many, “Never Say Never” is the pinnacle. While it didn’t scale the pop charts like “A Girl In Trouble”, it sent dance floors into ecstatic commotion, radios turned up fro that few minutes of reverie. From Peter’s twenty clipped shards of notes, to Larry Carter’s drum roll before the bass comes in insistent and declamatory, Romeo Void ushered in a new high-powered dance aesthetic. Peter wanders edgily around, charting a caustic environment on guitar, Debora sketches an unfamiliar landscape using an uncommonly familiar set of strokes. The oft-quoted line “I might like you better if we slept together” is delivered with more venom than memory or mimicry usually serves. The dangerous level of possession inherent in Debora’s double tracked tone easily bridges the gap between Lolita and Carrie.
The second album, and the debut for Columbia, was Benefactor. The sparseness of Condition, already jettisoned by the EP, was now eclipsed by an avalanche of studio trickery. At one point the band had to sneak into the studio at night to record a song as they wanted to hear it. The energetic “Wrap It Up” was a way of saying thank you to Louie Beeson, the band’s longtime sound mixer and friend. “Flashflood” recalls the tension and loneliness that permeated the first album, but Frank , Peter and Benjamin found space for a luscious trio among instruments in the break. “Undercover Kept” is a surprise inclusion on the band’s part; it is less successfully “immediate” in pop terms, but it has a mysterious quality that continues to enchant.
“Chinatown” is the most frantic, punk flavored and paced song of RV’s career, even though Frank’s bass is at his most audibly Joy Division influenced. It has a hellish pace, a ride on a driverless bus, Debora resorting to panic only momentarily. The subtext of the song - essentially a document of the area which bordered our bohemian/punk renaissance: keep your head and run faster than they do unfortunately paralleled the recording experience.
Romeo Void regrouped for their third album, Instincts, with David Kahne, this time with a powerhouse of a drummer, Aaron Smith. An incredible pro player, who nonetheless did not seem like a hired hand, Smith galvanized the band and the sound. Unfortunately, the fractiousness that comes with the territory of working in a group which initially just wanted to play for fun took its toll. The desperation that fueled the early songs began to transform into repressed anger as simmering tensions became insurmountable. “Just Too Easy” is remarkable for Debora’s spoken, almost rap-like performance. She rattles off one-liners with disquieting ease, yet the exasperation is painfully obvious; the out-of-breath delivery of “you’re always falling apart” is unerringly pointed. Peter’s guitar seems more brittle than ever, ready to crack with one more twist of the knife.
“A Girl In Trouble” was a response to a popular song of the day in which a man denies responsibility for a son he may have fathered. While the thrust of the song often eluded listeners, it connected on other levels, affording the band a trip to “American Bandstand”. The following year, touring Europe for the first time, the band imploded in Germany, and never played another live show in America. “One Thousand Shadows” is an epitaph, a song recorded after the Instincts sessions for a film soundtrack that that never materialized. Debora describes it as a song about survival, about dreams out growing circumstances. Recorded on a four track, it is a quiet end, a retreat to more familiar ground.
WARD Music Monthly Magazine
Cover of Compilation CD
Monoprint - Debora Iyall
8/24/1980 - Pre Benjamin Bossi, no saxophone,
Frank Zincavage, Aaron Smith, Debora Iyall,
Peter Woods, Benjamin Bossi
Photo - Chester Simpson
Peter Woods, Larry Carter, Debora Iyall,
Benjamin Bossi, Frank Zincavage
Photo - Deacon Chapin
Frank Zincavage, Aaron Smith, Debora Iyall,
Peter Woods, Klaudia Promessi (sax)
Photo - Billy Douglas
Benjamin, Larry, Frank, Debora, Allan, Peter
w/Allan Robinson, DJ, at I-Beam Show, SF
Frank, Debora, Larry, Benjamin, Peter
Photo - Stefano Paolillo
Benjamin, Frank, Peter, Debora, Larry
Photo - Stefano Paolillo