Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Just a Place



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?"

"Yeah, exactly!"

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.


Boldly Serving Up Wheat Grass said...

OMFUG = "Other Music for Uplifting Gormandizers" according to the wonderwiki. Is it actually possible that that acronym predates the net-slang version of OMFG?

Neddie said...

I'd heard "Other Music for Urban Guerrillas" myself, but who am I to question the Collective Wisdom? I am but dust in the wind.

Is it actually possible that that acronym predates the net-slang version of OMFG?

By ten years at least.

I think they should have put cntwkf on the marquee. We'd still be wondering.

Reel Fanatic said...

Those are all great stories ... The one and only time I went was well past its prime, but it was still a hell of a place, and the remarkable Steve Wynn nearly tore it down

Will Divide said...

Awww... Leshko's.

The Viscount LaCarte said...

I wish I had time to write - man that was good Ned. Inspiring.

Hope to see you next week.

Bobby Lightfoot said...

That just fucking shreds.

I'm pretty sure we was going to Wash. Sq. Park to cop loose joints.

Yeah, I wasn't actually sucking in my cheeks. I just skipped five meals on th' walk. word.

Your apt. was so much more punk than CBGB. I think Sid did the Nancy-stabbing-dress-rehearsal there.

Where th' dickens is Judd Neslone these days? And where's Milly Ringworm? Now that we need 'em? She never came back from the shoplifting thing. More's the shame.

Kevin Wolf said...

Even while attending NYU Film School downtown, and hitting record stores in St Mark's Place, etc, I never went to CBGB. I think I peeked in once and I did buy some records in the CBGB record shop that was open for a time, but that's all.

Terrific stories. Judd Nelson. Ha! Any story becomes funnier with Judd Nelson in it.

BSUWG is correct about OMFUG, or is at least backed up by all the articles this week in the NY Times re the closing.

Carl said...

Yeah, well I played there. Tuesday, December 29, 1992. Sure, there were only 30 or so people there, and almost half of them had come up from PA with us. But still... highlight of my musical career.

Anonymous said...

I've never even been to New York, but your description of Joey Ramone is spot-on. I "met" him (if you could call it that) at the house of the Iggy Pop fan club owner, in SF in '77, and the dude was nodding in and out, and once every couple of minutes, he'd try to snap, and then say "I can't snap my fingers 'cause I hurt my hand & it hurts when I snap." *nod* ... *snap* ...

It was pretty surreal. The next day, we loaned Iggy Pop the left-handed guitar upon which he would write the beginnings of Lust For Life -- the greatest rock and roll moment of my all-too-obscure life.

Anonymous said...

I only saw CBGB's from the outside as we did the tourist thing about 12 years ago. Snapped a photo, of course.

Then, as some sort of whacked tribute to Nancy, I made my husband take photos of me in front of every graffiti ravaged doorway and brick building. And in every photo I'm making this really rebellious, growling face! How fun that was!

My favorite photo was one of me in front of this total wreck of a place across the street from CBGB's and above my head are about 35 old bumper stickers that said:


That's the only CBGB story I have.


Take a tour,
through the sewer
Don't strain your brain,
paint a train
You'll be singin'
in the rain
I said don't stop,
do punk rock

Anonymous said...

I forgot...

Where th' dickens is Judd Neslone these days? And where's Milly Ringworm? Now that we need 'em?


Wasn't it such a special movie moment when she Milly Ringworm (LOL!) gave him her huge diamond stud earring at the end of Breakfast Club?

Don't you forget about me, I'll be alone, dancing, you know it baby...

Hey, hey, hey, hey!

Carl said...

Molly did a guest spot on the "I see dead people" show Medium last year, so she's still acting.

Tom said...

I will forever curse my own name for not going to CBGBOMFUGWTFLOL when I lived nearby. I did get Johnny Rotten's autograph on No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish, though, so there's that.

Tom said...

Other NYC celeb sightings: Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson, David Byrne, John Cale, Penn and Teller (all of the above when I was ushering for Arts at St. Ann's, where I also got to hear Jeff Buckley, Richard Thompson, and Bill Frisell live for the first time); also John Turturro, whom I walked past in Park Slope; he studiously avoided eye contact. Good times, baby.

cleek said...

i was in NYC about ten years ago, visiting a girlfriend who was doing a summer internship at the NYT. her roommates and i were cruising around the lower-east side, trying to find this cowboy bar where we were going to go see some bands. and, yep, we turned a corner, and there it was. i was all like "hey, CBGB! let's go there!". they were all like, "eeew! no way! that place looks skanky! we wanna dance!"

so, we went to the cowboy bar, where we watched a rockabilly band i'd already seen a dozen times - because, of course, they were from from Rochester NY, where i lived.

adxvb! story of my life.

Anonymous said...

Great post Neddie, you brought back many memories w/that one.. 1st time I experienced NYC was for New Music Seminar back in 88 or so, we were touring in a Country Squire station wagon w/4 dudes and a PA, played the lobby of the World Trade Center. CB’s was the only place I cared really to see, but we had another show that night in Boston so it never happened. Came back next year, and cabbed it down to CBGB the first night. That first sight of it, approaching on Bleecker, was exactly like the moment you described..BAM, Right there in your face, the birthplace of American punk. I saw Uncle Tupelo play to about 25 people.
As far as celebrity sightings, Eddie Money on the sidewalk in front of Tramps. Lame, I know.

roy edroso said...

That was great, thanks.

Anonymous said...


I remember the Psych Furs night. You were with only 1 local friend, and that was me. My brother, KC with us. I think that was it. In the mid-90s, we saw Joey a lot at parties on the lower East Side. He was friends with a guy we knew who threw great parties. Johnny lived near my wife in Cheldea, and he almost knocked my lights out once for basically nothing. A real punk. Bottom line: CBs was cool, but Max's was better.

Neddie said...

Well, now, this is interesting!

I'm not JC, but I know a JC whose brother was KC and who was most definitely one of the people I was with...

Hit me back at neddiejingo at aol dot com -- let's have a tearful reunion!