96 Tears Anniversary Celebrated in Rhode Island

Lou Pazienza has an unusual hobby. The Rhode Island native (75) lives in Cranston, a city of around 80,000, located just south of the capital of Providence. He started creating unique displays about 16 years ago on the lawn of his sister’s house, the former home of their parents. The lawn project that captured my attention recently, however, was his elaborate creation that celebrated the 56th anniversary of “96 Tears reaching # 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100

Pazienza designs his displays on the computer before putting them together, and they are always centered around a particular date. Topics have ranged from a baseball series between the Red Sox and Yankees, to National Batman Day, the anniversary of the first Superman comic, National Pretzel Day, and a pink cancer ribbon for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Lou has also done some music displays in the past involving Chubby Checker’s “The Twist” and Jan & Dean’s “Surf City,” but neither of these were as impressive as his “96 Tears” display. "96 Tears" yard sign"96 Tears" yard sign

Talented in art, Panzienza started designing images by cutting the grass in the yard at different lengths, using both a lawnmower and well as a handheld, battery-operated grass shears to make them stand out. A perfectionist, it is not out of the question for him to spend six hours on his hands and knees using his hand trimmer to painstakingly cut the blades of grass to the exact lenghts that will best highlight his creations.

As time went on, he started making the displays even more elaborate by adding colorful signs made from 4 ft by 8 ft waterproof corrugated plastic sheets. If lettering and photos were needed for the project, Lou attached them to the plastic sheets and had them laminated at a Staples near the condo where he lives. 

In his younger days, Pazienza attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston, and he used to play sax in both The Invictas and Lou Paz and Company. Neither band played “96 Tears,” but Lou fondly recalled doing comedic routines on some of the songs in their repertoire like “Stagger Lee’ and “Short Shorts.”

He and his sister Lorraine first saw ? and The Mysterians on the 2011 PBS special, Pop, Rock & Soul. Hosted by T.J. Lubinsky and featuring artists from the 1960s and 1970s, it is one of the popular programs that are shown repeatedly on PBS stations around the country during their pledge drives. ? and The Mysterians were unique among the performers on Pop, Rock & Soul in that their lineup was composed of musicians who had all performed with the band during their heyday in the 1960s.

Panzienza loved what he called “the haunting sound” of Frank Rodriguez’s organ, and Lorraine, who was always into clothes, makeup and fashion, was impressed not only with Question Mark’s outfits and stage presence, but also the way that the band's performance was filmed. After the viewing, Lou bought Lorraine the “Best of ? and The Mysterians” CD and they listened to “96 Tears” while driving in the car. In addition, Lou keeps watch as to when the PBS program featuring ? and The Mysterians will be repeated, and he and his sister never fail to watch. The Pa-Go-Go label is 4 feet in diameterThe Pa-Go-Go label is 4 feet in diameter

While creating the “96 Tears” display, Panzienza was very exact on his duplication of the original Pa-Go-Go 45. The writing on the label used four different fonts, and he used his computer to find the exact fonts for his replica. The yellow and black Pa-Go-Go 45’s label was 3 inches in diameter, but Lou’s replica for the lawn display stood out at 4 feet in diameter, 13.7 times larger than the original. He then cut circular patterns in the lawn in opposite directions around his display label to give the impression of the grooves on the record. 

The final touch was the tone arm that he constructed for the display. Made out of two of the corrugated plastic sheets with a support on the bottom to hold it together, the tone arm was 10 feet, 8 inches long. He painted it brown and gray and even added a tone arm lifter to make it look even more realistic. The "96 Tears" display with tone armThe "96 Tears" display with tone arm

Panzienza also put together a sign that includes a large photo of Question Mark, listed as the sole composer on the hit record’s label (under his birth name of Rudy Martinez), along with factual information about the chart success of "96 Tears." The sign was placed to the left of the record label and tone arm, in front of the lamp post in the front yard.

Lou Pazienza’s display went up on October 29, 2022, the 56th anniversary of “96 Tears” reaching # 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was a fascinating tribute to one of Michigan’s Legendary Songs, a recording that both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Rolling Stone magazine have recognized as one of the 500 greatest rock and roll songs of all time.