Frank De Blase is not music. He is not a photography portfolio of pin-ups and rock shows. He is not articles, short stories or novels. He is not a tattoo. He is not Parkinson’s disease.
Frank De Blase is his name.
“De Blase that shit!”
“Give it more of a De Blased look.”
It’s a real thing, using his name as an adjective.
“I had my editor from Rebel Ink, which is a tattoo magazine, call me two days ago asking me to do a column, which is awesome. He gave me six months to do this column, and he says he wants it with the De Blase Twist,” De Blase says, holding back laughter. “I was like, ‘I’m De Blase, but I don’t know what that is.’”
Good luck trying to define it. It’s “bad-ass” meets “je ne sais quoi.” It’s “wow” meets “what?” It’s “cool” meets “uncomfortable.” But for De Blase, living up to his name just means living. He’s an active participant in a game where his only rule is to let things happen.
“Ultimately, I look at life, and I treat everything with humor, but with respect,” De Blase says straight-faced. “I’m laughing, but I’m not laughing at anybody’s expense.”
De Blase may be loud, both musically and visually. He swears and has the look of a rocker. But he’s not crass. He’s not rude or in your face. Sitting in a vintage green easy chair atop a leopard-print rug in his living room, De Blase is polite, charming. Struggling with the stutter that Parkinson’s brings, De Blase thoughtfully tells it like it is.
“Fast-forward to today, it’s a pain in the ass,” De Blase says of his condition. “There’s a preamble to everything I do. For every funny, cool and concise answer I give you, I trip up a little with my speech. Or, my speech is good, and I can’t walk as well. Everything I do is sort of preempted by, OK, make sure I don’t fall or make sure I don’t stutter. I travel around, I need to walk. I have a radio show for Christ’s sake, so I need to have my speech as best I can.”
De Blase, 47, was introduced to music 40 years ago as a kid growing up in Irondequoit, when his mom sat him in front of a piano for some classical lessons. Coming of age in the 1970s, De Blase turned to rock and roll for some classical rebellion. Rather than follow the punk rock fad, De Blase took to the rockabilly stylings of the ’40s and ’50s. He learned guitar, joined a band [The Frantic Flattops], and before long started touring.
At 33, when Parkinson’s first struck De Blase, his guitar playing was the first to suffer. But he doesn’t hold a grudge.
“I’ve been to Europe three times with the band, and we’ve toured the United States extensively,” he says. “Rock and roll took me there. It was sort of victorious to be on the road and to see palm trees. You knew you weren’t in Rochester anymore. It was kind of like my guitar was the skeleton key to the door to the world.”
While words come naturally to him, De Blase was a hardly trained writer. At a tour stop in New York City, De Blase had a friend working as an editor for a magazine. De Blase told him he’d been writing a bit and wanted to do a humor piece called “A Hipster’s Guide to Christmas” hoping his friend would help get it published.
“Basically, how to be a hipster and shop in time for Christmas, like buying your girlfriend underpants that are too small just so she’ll know that you think her ass is smaller than it actually is.” He snickers like it worked for him at least once. “That was my first thing published, and it was published in Swank Magazine. It was just a filthy porno rag, but it was great because all of my friends could say that there’s an article in there that Frank wrote. Most of them didn’t even get to my page.”
De Blase went on to become a music writer for City Magazine, and has done freelance work for numerous music, tattoo and men’s magazines. Often, his photography has accompanied his work, giving further life to his name. Not wanting to be limited, De Blase has also penned a mystery novel in the noir style fitting of his penchant for the mid-20th century.
“I think the writing encapsulates a bit more of the darkness. I mean, these are all femme fatales [referring to his pin-ups], but they have something wholesome and sunshiny about them. Musically, I like to add menacing elements, but I think the writing itself is particularly noir, something just the writing possesses, in great quantities, anyways.”
The book, Pine Box for a Pin-Up, has a 4.7 rating on Amazon.com. “Some shithead gave me a four,” he says smirking. “Threw everything off.” Still, you can learn everything you need to know about him when he tells the story of receiving the first copies of his book.
“My wife and I took a box of them, dumped ’em out on the bed and rolled around naked.”
Woven into his career as a musician and writer was a third as a photographer. While he’s shot a number of things, from the beginning, it has always been about the girls.
“I’ve been chick-crazy for years,” he says. He knows he’s been judged over the years for the pin-ups, but if he cared what other people thought, this interview would never have happened. That’s one thing De Blase and his pin-ups have in common: they bare it all for all to see.
De Blase and Deb, his wife of seven years, have made their home into a live-in autobiography narrated by his singular passion and three cats. He still can’t believe he actually got married. Almost as much as he can’t believe he owns cats.
“Put it this way: I was never gonna get married. I still say it and I’ve been married seven years. I also said I’d never have cats, and now I have three. So here I am, a self-loathing, cat-owning married man.” De Blase says this with great affection and appreciation for Deb, an Australian whom he met at a battle of the bands in Rochester. “She’s a strong woman with her own passions and desires and drives, who puts up with my bullshit and sees potential in me more than I do.”
As a young man, he may have never thought he’d be married. Or own cats. Or have Parkinson’s. But his willingness to accept the direction his life takes him is as clear as the writing on his knuckles. Tattooed on one hand, the word Love. On the other, Fate.
“Typically, the tattoo on knuckles reads ‘Love’ and ‘Hate’ ... sort of the yin and yang kind of thing.” He says this attempting to hold them up without shaking. “I just didn’t have the heart to put ‘Hate’ on one of my hands. So I went with ‘Fate’ and I figure somewhere in between lies the truth.”
De Blase, a miner of happiness, digs deep to find it.
“Quite honestly, would I still be playing guitar traveling around the world in a van? It’s hard to say.” De Blase takes a notable pause to consider. “Probably, but then again, would I have had the time to focus on writing then? So, I mean, as insidious as Parkinson’s is, it can be somewhat serendipitous, too.”
Insidious and serendipitous in the same sentence? So De Blase.