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Sept. 26, 2008

Doug Gentile and Tom Florek

Doug Gentile (left), a psychology professor at ISU, teams up with former college roommate Tom Florek annually to record music. The duo has produced several collections over their 23-year friendship. Photo by Bob Elbert.

Psych professor makes music his playful passion

by Mike Ferlazzo, News Service

Because Doug Gentile's research shows that violent video game exposure adversely affects the behavior of children and teens, gamers sometimes tell this assistant professor of psychology that he doesn't know the difference between fun and serious.

Evidently, they never listened to one of his "Tom and Doug" CDs. Or, better yet, seen one of the duo's videos. How else would you describe "Gangsta Knitter" but fun?

The Tom is Thomas Florek, a computer programmer from Princeton, N.J., who is Gentile's SUNY-Buffalo college friend. Fun is what Tom and Doug have in their annual weekend music recording sessions -- typically in Gentile's basement recording studio. They've been making their original brand of music for 23 years, producing several CDs and cassettes.

Another college band ...

"My roommate Eric played piano, my roommate Steve played guitar and Tom played piano, and so the four of us all looked at each other and said, 'Hey, let's be a band,'" Gentile said.

From a family of musicians, Gentile claims it's his job to "ruin the family name."

"I didn't play an instrument and I hadn't taken lessons. And if you don't play an instrument, you play bass," he said. "So I borrowed my father's bass and started to play. The four of us would get together every night after classes and we'd play and write music. We called ourselves 'Norm and the Standard Deviates.' I wrote my first song ('God Doesn't Want Your Money') with Tom in 1985."

Thus began Tom and Doug's musical odyssey, which is chronicled on their web site, "Tom & Doug: The Music and The Madness" (

"I just loved playing, writing, performing and recording music," Gentile said. "And we had access to the recording studios at Buffalo. Tom bought a four-track tape deck and we set up a recording studio in our living room and just started recording."

When Gentile moved to Princeton, Tom followed and they continued to perform and record together. And when Gentile moved again, they agreed to get together once a year around Labor Day for their annual recording sessions.

Versatility is key

What they record could, literally, be anything. Gentile said they've done every musical genre -- from rap, to rock, to blues, to reggae, to jazz, to country, to folk -- and other things in between.

"It's largely comedy -- not all, but largely," he said. "There's no way to describe the style because we play in every musical style. Well, some people might claim that the style is best described as 'bad.'

"It's mainly for our own amusement," Gentile said. "Heck, our own families don't listen to our music."

"That's probably a good thing, given what we've written about them," Florek added.

Gentile gives his partner credit for coming up with many of the song ideas. He said Florek draws much of his inspiration from watching television.

But Florek begs to differ.

"Usually Doug has all the ideas, but this year I actually had a lot of ideas and I had to put him through the trouble of rejecting them all," he said.

Those ideas sometimes take on bizarre instrumental lives. While many include your standard drums, bass guitar and keyboards, Gentile said others may feature such things as a banana, tennis racquet or lap cymbal. Once, they even had a chorus of 30 kazoos accompany them in a live recording.

The trick is to have fun

"People have responded really well to the humor," Gentile said. "What we can do is show how we really enjoy what we're doing, or at least trick people by pretending to enjoy what we're doing."

"That's really the trick in life, and that's what's fun," Florek said.

That's not to say that their fun doesn't tackle serious topics, too. Their next CD will explore why people are mean in society, and "why meanness is fun and necessary for a happy, dysfunctional culture, such as our own," Florek said.

"Everyone wins when everyone is mean," he said. "Once we embrace that ideal, then we can truly live in a utopian world. You'll need to buy the next CD to learn how."

Breakout performances

While Tom and Doug are still waiting for their "big break," they occasionally experience moments of fame. Dee Snider -- the former lead singer of the band Twisted Sister -- used their jazzy recording of "We're Not Gonna Take It" as the theme song for his morning radio show on WMRQ in Hartford, Conn. They even got the chance to perform it live on Snider's show.

But because of their separate lives states apart, live concert performances are the exception and not the norm for Tom and Doug. Since 1988, they have performed a series of holiday concerts as "Santa P. and the Elves." They also performed in the woods along the route of a 500-mile charity bike ride to benefit a teen homeless shelter in Trenton, N.J. And they appeared last May (via a satellite link) on a 30-hour telethon in Princeton.

"Do we tour? No," Gentile said. "We're like the Beatles in the later years. We sit in our recording studio and fight with each other."


"It's mainly for our own amusement. Heck, our own families don't listen to our music."

Doug Gentile