What does a recently released five-LP/CD box set of music by Cleveland icon Peter Laughner have to do with a furniture shop owner in Phoenix? It turns out, a lot.
Cynthia Black is that shop owner, helming C-MOD Curated Modern Design in central Phoenix’s Melrose District. Additionally, she’s a multi-instrumentalist who was in bands with Laughner back in the '70s.
She was born and raised in the Cleveland area and started playing music in grade school. As a teen, she began trekking into the city to see shows and got to know like-minded players in the fringe scene. Black was playing music at an art gallery with some friends, including Bob Bensick, a Cleveland-area musician since the '60s, and Scott Krause, who ended up in the legendary art-rock act Pere Ubu with Laughner in the mid-'70s.
It was at one particular gig when Black and Laughner started to solidify their loose scene connection. No one was coming up to pay attention, so the guys in the group urged her to do something to see if she could draw some support.
“As the six-foot blonde in the band, I think they thought I could help get a crowd up there,” Black recalls.
What she ended up doing was the best idea. “I looked down the stairs and thought, ‘What am I going to do? Tap people on the shoulder?’ So I did what was natural for my radical self,” she says. “I grabbed the railing, filled my lungs with air, and let out the biggest shriek I could. It sounded like I’d been murdered by Satan himself. That got people’s attention. Charlotte [Pressler, Laughner’s then-wife] noticed, and it became an instrumental night in relationship building.”
Black went on to play keyboards in Laughner’s group Cinderella Backstreet and later rocked a bass in his band Peter and the Wolves. She says he was often that glue people needed to bring projects to fruition.
“He had this ability to galvanize,” she says. “You know how sometimes you can have a lot of creative minds together, wanting to make something happen, but there’s some focus missing? Peter had that focus. Between all the songs everyone was covering and material he had, there was no lack of anything to play.”
“With Peter,” she laughs, “all someone had to do was say the word ‘band,’ and he had the flyers made.”
Laughner, who was also a music writer who penned pieces for mags like Creem and Exit, wanted to put Cleveland music on the map. His band Rocket From the Tombs is a vital proto-punk listen. He passed away at the age of 24 in 1977. This box set highlights just how prolific he was over such a brief lifespan.
It wasn’t long before his death that Black had a hankering to leave Cleveland. “I had two friends who moved to New York about a year and a half before me,” she says. “It’s funny. One morning, I woke up and I literally saw the New York City skyline on my bedroom ceiling, and thought, ‘Okay, I’ll move.’ Three months later, I was gone.”
She got involved in the music scene there, connecting with some of the coolest kids in the scene, like Patti Smith and her band. She worked with Velvet Underground’s John Cale for a bit. Her music career evolved into experimental and electronic arenas, and though she’s not currently playing, the ever-creative Black has some ideas in mind.
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“If you’re an artist, you’re going to be an artist forever, if that’s your thing,” Black says. Right now, she’s expressing herself through her store, C-MOD.
“Showing these highly-curated iconic design pieces, to me, is still being an artist,” she says. “When people come in, I see it like they’re coming to a music concert. I like that they can enjoy it in that same way — look at things, sit in them, be comfortable, soak up how beautiful it is — I like giving that opportunity to people.”