Wide-eyed Neddie, in Noo Yawk for the second time in his independent life, on a toot from Kenyon, anticipating a wild night with the Psychedelic Furs and the English Beat at the Ritz. I'm with two-three native friends, guys whose dads are nuclear engineers, dentists, road-paving contractors in Larchmont, Islip, Great Neck. They are sooooo jaded. They wear their world-weariness and cynicism like badges on their Goodwill greatcoats, in among their Tin Huey and Wayne County buttons. We're just wandering the Lower East Side in the early evening, killing time before the doors open at the Ritz. Turn a corner on the Bowery and BLAM! There it is! CBGB! OMF(u)G!
"Whoa!" observes your correspondent trenchantly. "CBGB!"
This may have been a tad hayseed of me. I may have betrayed my sheltered upbringing to my ultrasophisticated companions with this awestruck outburst. An eye or two may very well have rolled.
"Come on! I wanna look in! I wanna see!"
"Jesus, Neddie. It's just a place."
"Fuck place! It's CBGB! Come on! I'm going in!"
Nobody came with me.
The place was empty. Nothing was going on. A bartender was unloading cases of beer. A lone, tall figure leaned his back against the bar, plainly blitzed out of his gourd. He rocked from side to side, unable to find his center of gravity. His hair hung down over his face as he contemplated the floor. He appeared to be nodding out and waking again every few seconds.
He was, of course, Joey Ramone.
Back on the sidewalk: "It was Joey fuckin' Ramone! Standing right there! FUBAR! I'm not fuckin' hallucinating, you assholes! He was right there!"
"Right, Ned. Right. Joey Ramone. Let's get some pierogies at Leshko's."
Rent-poor, clothes-poor, food-poor, a year out of college and toiling for a four-figure income, your Ned is domiciled in a roach-ridden, rat-infested first-floor sublet on 28th and Eighth, quickly depleting his record collection at the used-record shop, sacrificed on the Altar of Beer-Money. Didn't exactly have much use for my moth-eaten "Thick as a Brick" and my Mexican pressing of "Let It Be" those days anyway.
Bobby Lightfoot comes down from Hampshire College for a visit. Still only a sophomore, he's got Dreams. Big Dreams. Gonna be a Rock-n-Roll Star, yes sir, Casio keyboard always at the ready to regale us with a newly-worked-out arrangement of Joe Jackson's "Steppin' Out." At great length.
He's not yet formed The Malarians, but the pieces are in place, and it's pretty easy to tell the kid's already in a musical zone way beyond anyplace I've ever been. Ambitous. Very ambitious.
We go downtown. Can't even remember why, now. Our wanderings take us to the Bowery, and when I point out CBGB across the street, his reaction's not dissimilar to mine three years earlier. He wants to check it out.
There's a crowd outside, and we have to squeeze our way through it. I look at Bobby, and almost piss myself laughing. His spine is absolutely straight as me winds around people, his eyes are hooded in the best Punk style, he's pulled himself to his full six feet, and he is actually, swear to God, sucking in his cheeks.
Come on, Bobby! They're just people! You're not going to get discovered in this crowd!
I still rib him about that.
I haven't seen a copy of the Village Voice in years, so I don't know if this is still true, but in the early-mid Eighties the back page always had some mighty amusing little ads. One of these touted a phone number, which, when called, triggered an answering machine that played a little fifteen-second snippet of very odd music -- accordions, synthetic horns, weird percussion, with funny, slapdash lyrics about plumbing, airplanes, and Necco wafers. We loved it, we geekazoid inhabitants of Prospect Place, Brooklyn, and called it regularly, phoning each other when a new tune had been posted up.
It's a little hard to believe, in these days of instant Internet-driven fads, but I'm prepared to argue that They Might Be Giants (for the weird little songs on the answering machine were, in fact, their brainchild) invented Viral Marketing.
Be that as it may, a warm night found me and my great pal Paul at CBGB, taking in a They Might Be Giants gig. We sat at the bar, more or less exactly where Joey Ramone had parked his wasted ass five years before. I was a bit disappointed in TMBG's live act; they were standoffish and shy when they needed to fill the room with their presence, and I was quite put off by the fact that considerably more than half of the music I was hearing was pre-taped.
Paul sloped off to the bathroom. As he left, a voice behind me excused itself, its owner trying to get through the crowd to the bar. As he approached my side, I obligingly shifted my stool a few inches so he could belly up and get the bartender's attention. He thanked me, and we started chatting, as one does at bars.
"What do you think?" he said, pointing his chin at the stage.
"Oh, I dunno... I loved their album, but this playing-with-tapes thing, I don't care for that much..."
"Yeah, I know what you mean, you want value for money, you know -- like, I paid how much to watch a couple of guys playing along to their record player?"
The conversation went on in this vein for a bit longer, comparing who we liked and who sucked. During this time Paul returned and reclaimed his seat. I felt a little explosion when he'd oriented himself, and as my interlocutor said, "Well, my date's waiting, gotta get back to my table. Good talking to you...", I was fending off frantic tugs on my shirt-sleeve.
"What the fuck, Paul?"
"Do you fucking know who that was? Jesus Christ, that was Judd Nelson!"
Nelson had, at the time, just starred in "The Breakfast Club" and "St. Elmo's Fire," and was easily one of the most recognizable faces in America. Today it might be as though I'd just passed five chatty minutes with Vince Vaughn, or perhaps Owen Wilson, without knowing who they were.
Recognizable, that is, except to me. I hated Brat Pack movies, anyway. To me, he was just some guy.
I'll always think of him as My Close and Personal Pal Judd.