In May 2020, I submitted a formal nomination for Commander Cody (born George W. Frayne IV) to receive an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, the University of Michigan. I was instructed to keep all things confidential, in part to protect the nominee who might not react well to not being chosen. Well, George did not win the prize. But as he’s been gone over a year, he won’t be affected by the news. His widow, Sue Casanova, knows I did this and was moved by the fact. So here is the document, complete with University boilerplate, that I submitted, preceded by some nice pics of the Ol’ Commander in his prime
People forget what a handsome, virile dude he was. Also a tremendous athlete who ran track and played football as a freshman at Michigan (so he says; he was also a world-class bullshitter).
UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN
Nomination Guidelines and Submission Form
Nominees should meet one or more of the following:
● The nominee should have demonstrable distinguished achievement in an activity related to the University’s missions of research and scholarship, education, or service.
● Ideally, there should be a particular reason for recognition of the nominee by the University of Michigan, such as an association with the University or a relationship of his or her achievement to work that is unique or highly characteristic of Michigan.
● The honorary degree should have a special meaning to the individual being recognized.
For information regarding eligibility, visit: https://president.umich.edu/about/committees/honorary-degree-committee/
The University’s Honorary Degree Committee meets twice a year, ordinarily in the Fall and Spring.
Questions can be directed to HDnominations@umich.edu or by calling (734) 764-4405.
ABOUT THE NOMINEE
|Name of Nominee:||George W. Frayne|
|Address:||11 Lonesome Pine Trail Gansevoort, New York 12831|
Please describe how the nominee has demonstrated distinguished achievement in an activity related to the University’s mission of research and scholarship, education, or service (in 1,000 words or less):
George Frayne entered the Art and Architecture school as a dedicated student of the arts, but left with a love of music superseding. The Art & Design school has graduated many creative people over the years, but has there ever been a more unique individual than George Frayne? Coming to Ann Arbor from Long Island, son of two established artists, he succeeded in his studies, earning a scholarship to pursue graduate work. His sculptures populated North Campus. He offered a jovial comment about his sculptures “I just weld bumpers together and pass it off as art”. He earned a B.S. in Design (’66) and and an M.F.A. in Painting and Sculpture (’68). He garnered a faculty position at the Wisconsin State University – Oshkosh, but it was music that would propel his early career. His studies did not interfere with his extracurriculars, or vice versa. A meeting while he was washing pots at Phi Kappa Psi with an engineering student with a penchant for country music led him to put his 9 months of boogie-woogie piano lessons in high school into a band that eventually became “Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen”. They started as entertainment for frat parties and grew to a group that would entertain 100s of 1000s across concert stages throughout the US and abroad. The brand of music they portrayed is what would now be called “Americana”, delving into older often obscure tunes for a “hippie” audience surely hearing them for the first time. Consider this an educational activity, introducing us hippies to styles we wouldn’t have otherwise encountered? In his time based in Berkeley, he and his Lost Planet Airmen became a favored opening band to better known groups. As such, George has worked with, and gained the respect of, many of the greats in the music industry. He’s even appeared aside Godzilla in a Hollywood movie. Of their many albums, one (“Live from deep in the heart of Texas”) has made it into Rolling Stone’s 100 best albums of all time. The band’s journey into “almost making it big” has been chronicled in Starmaking Machinery, Geoffrey Stokes (c1976, Bobbs-Merrill). The Lost Planet Airmen broke up in 1976, but George (“the Commander”) has continued to record and tour, his raucous concerts a must see for those who appreciate what he’s been doing. The band’s biggest hit “Hot Rod Lincoln” rose to #9 on the Billboard hot 100 and was ranked No. 69 on the U.S. Billboard Year-End Hot 100 singles of 1972. He’s released 34 albums and has had several other Billboard hits. In 2011, the Commander and His Lost Planet Airmen were voted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He’ll hold forth on his love for his days of Michigan to whomever might ask.
George has been at least as active with his art as with his music. He has never left behind his art. Some critics even considered the Lost Planet Airmen to be an art project. This was before Andy Warhol was doing just that with Velvet Underground. Canvas and metal drew him, as did the faces of the many performers he encountered. Big vehicles – cars, ships, airplanes – also caught his attention for acrylic hyper realism. He also delves into Cubism. He’s exhibited in galleries from Tokyo to London, and in museums including The Museum of Natural History, the Saratoga Auto Museum and at the Directors Guild in Hollywood. He’s been in 11 group shows from “63-’94, and participated in the ’78 “StarArt” book published by Dorothy Cheshire with Joni Mitchell and Cat Stevens, now quite valuable https://www.amazon.com/Starart-Joni-Mitchell/dp/096900530X. He’s had 30 one man shows from ’68 –’09. He’s participated in 5 national juried shows from ‘68 –’05. His paintings of 12 immortal rock performers graced the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He published in 2009 his own book of art renderings coupled with anecdotes of the person portrayed. The book Art, Music, and Life (Q Book Press, 2009) contains pop-art portraits of music legends from Willie Nelson and Jerry Garcia to Sarah Vaughan and Charles Mingus. It also showcases abstract works, still lifes and elaborately painted sculptures. The book is also filled with anecdotes of a bygone era, each story accompanied by colorful portraits and paintings, over 100 images in all. He recalls meeting Hunter S. Thompson, Louis Armstrong, Gene Krupa and other cultural icons https://www.amazon.com/Music-Life-Commander-George-Frayne/dp/0984265007/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=george+frayne&qid=1612715941&sr=8-1. Judging from Amazon, it’s now something of value. Since his brother Chris died of multiple sclerosis in ’92, he’s illustrated all his band’s albums and posters. He continues to paint, even on commission. He’s not sculpted for 30 years, citing lack of access to appropriate welding equipment. He used to sell his art out of his web site. He’s withdrawn examples, asking those interested to contact him directly for the $25 – $10,000 pieces he features. Google for George Frayne art still finds offerings. He’s taken up video over the past decade and has embellished many old CC&LPA songs with amusing overlying clips of old Hollywood movies. He maintains a YouTube site as well as a Spotify site for his music. He was part of the Future Former Alumni exhibition at Stamps School of Art and Design in 2018. He still does portraits of famous automobiles for the Saratoga Auto Museum in Saratoga Springs, New York, where he currently resides. He’s also lectured at 8 colleges and universities around the country; his topic: “The Function of the Sub-conscious Mind Creating Fun”.
In summary, in the early 60s, George Frayne brought considerable talents to Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan, where he nurtured and applied them. He has had a productive and fascinating dual career in the arts for over 50 years, entertaining and challenging millions around the world. His Lost Planet Airmen have been my favorite band since I first snuck into Hill to see them in April ’71. I’ve always enjoyed pointing out to others that not only were they born in a U of M frat house, but that their leader is a Michigan Man all they way. And not a bad painter and sculptor, either. Please recognize this iconoclastic genius graduate of our University with the doctorate that will suit him well, while he’s still with us.
Please tell us if there is a particular reason the nominee should be recognized by U-M, i.e. a relationship with the University or an association of his/her achievement to work that is unique or highly characteristic of Michigan (in 100 words or less):
George is a proud U of M alumnus with 2 degrees from this institution. As a student, he made an impact on both town and gown with his art and his music and has turned that on the world since his departure. On February 17, 1974, he was included in a Michigan Daily Sunday Magazine article on “’U’ alumni: The rich, powerful, and notorious”, a group of 33 that included soon-to-be President Gerald Ford, two senators, governor Soapy Williams, astronaut Jim McDivitt, 5 CEOs, Cazzie Russell, Tom Harmon, and Arthur Miller.
Please tell us if the honorary degree would have special meaning to the nominee. If so, please describe in 50 words or less:
What if Mr. Frayne had not ventured from Long Island to Ann Arbor in ’62? His zany, improbable dual careers were born and nurtured right here at U of M, to which I’m sure he’d be proud to pay homage by wearing the robe and cap of a Michigan doctor.
Are there any circumstances that the University should be aware of in considering this nomination, which are related to a specific commencement date or a particular situation of the nominee? Please explain in 50 words or less:
George’s once robust good health has taken a blow, especially since undergoing a 7 hour operation at a New York City hospital last December. His family wishes that further details of his medical condition be kept private.
Would it be appropriate for this nominee to deliver a commencement address? Check one:
Yes √ No
If yes, please briefly explain in 50 words or less:
While George has experience speaking to college audiences, I think the best way for him to acknowledge his honor would be with his music. I’m certain he could enliven the graduation proceedings with a performance of one of his songs, or maybe several..
|Name of Nominator:||Robert W. Ike, M.D.|
|Title(s):||Emeritus Associate Professor of Medicine Department of Internal Medicine Division of Rheumatology University of Michigan Health System|
|Address:||1611 Harbal Drive Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105-1815|
Where to submit the Nomination
Nominations submitted via this form should be emailed, mailed or faxed to:
Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies
915 East Washington Street
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109-1070
Phone: (734) 764-4405
Fax: (734) 615-3832