Its Memorial Day weekend here in the states and many people are writing about their family’s military history. As I come from a long line of cowards, I’ve got nada to say on that subject. Well actually, my uncle was in the army. He’s the only gay member of the family, which I think says something not only about the family, but him, the military, and this country. But that’s a story for another occassion. This story is about racism.
Race is a subject that seems to permeate all other subjects. Every week we hear about another person killed in a police shooting, with race at the center of the surrounding controversy, with protests to follow. Race can be a mine field as a topic of discussion but it’s there and probably shouldn’t be ignored. I don’t profess to have an answer to the issues surrounding race relations in this or any other country. But, as always, you can depend on Lou Weiss for a number of opinions on the subject. Through him I received an education which stays with me to this day.
When he got out of prison at age 72, Lou displayed new insights into race and social justice. He’d say things like, “You know, the black man doesn’t have a fair chance in this country.” I guess jail can change a man, because I remember as far back as 1968, during the presidential campaign, when he said he was going to vote for George Wallace. You know, the segregationist third party candidate. I was aghast at the time but I realized that it wasn’t that my dad was a racist. Well, not the cross burning, white sheet kind of racist. It was that he was fed up with Republicans and Democrats and wanted to cast a protest vote. I never said he was a reasoned thinker or that he couldn’t fall prey to demagogues. In fact I also remember him making a case for dropping nuclear weapons on North Vietnam. I was only eight at the time but even then I even knew that it was a bat shit crazy idea.
In his store on Canal Street he always hired what would now be termed a “diverse” staff. He wasn’t being benevolent. To him, it was just good business. He figured that if you have customers of color, it would make sense to have staff of color. In the 1950’s, when the area was mostly Jewish and Italian, his sales staff were Jewish and Italian. When the store started to have more Black, Chinese and Puerto Rican customers, he started to hire Black, Chinese and Puerto Rican staff. My goodness: Lou Weiss did something right!
By working there I learned a lot from his multi-cultural staff. I learned how to say “penis” in Pilipino, “butt” in Spanish, and “Mother F*cker” in Chinese, although I never did find out what dialect it was. I also learned the Spanish language phrase for a man whose wife is having sex with another man. And of course there’s the word “homosexual,” which I learned to say in Spanish too, although I sense it wasn’t used in a gay positive manner. Just a hunch. I learned mixed phrases like “I got a pinga for the chinga baby!” That was a way of informing a women that you possessed a male sex organ and could use it to have sexual relations with her. I heard that one a lot, although I had my doubts as to its effectiveness. I guess you’ve sensed by now that it was an all-male sales staff.
The Chinese and Malaysian guys hated each other with a passion, which I guess goes back centuries. This was news to me as were a whole set of hierarchies among ethnic groups. The Cubans thought the Puerto Ricans were “mountain men,” and all the Hispanics hated Brazilians because they wore Lacoste shirts. I must be part Hispanic, because in high school I also hated anyone who wore a Lacoste shirt. Maybe I’m really Sephardic?
Yeah, racism seems to be universal. As Victor, a sales person from Santo Domingo would say, “I’m not racist. I hate everyone equally.” But they all worked together, when they weren’t stealing each other’s customers. But, what’s most important was that they’d steal equally from any nationality. Yep, just another sign of what a great country this is. Equal opportunity hate.
My father would not only hire people of color, but also ex-cons, junkies, and illegal aliens. He implied it was his heroic way of helping the downtrodden but I learned the real reason when he decided he needed to hire another sales person. We put an ad in the paper and after sifting through applications and checking references, it came down to a choice between a twenty-something white guy and a nineteen year-old Puerto Rican. Perhaps I was showing my own biases, but I thought the white guy was the better choice. For one thing, he was more mature and could look you in the eye, unlike the other applicant who’d stare at his feet while he spoke to you. The white applicant was also more educated and his knowledge of the merchandise was superior. However, my dad favored the Puerto Rican guy. When I asked him why, he said it was because the guy had nothing better in his life and would therefore be beholden to him. Forever. To me, not only was he inaccurately stereotyping people, but to take advantage of someone like that was a notch above slavery. But, Lou Weiss was the boss and his choice was final.
By the end of the summer, the “beholden” Puerto Rican teenager had quit to go back to school. In my mind, I can hear the old Yankees’ sportscaster Mel Allen: “How about that?”
By the summer of 1982 I was 22 years old. I’d played in front of my pre-band friends at our old haunt, the Mudd Club, the year before, after previously staring at that same stage. I used to read about Leee Childers in Circus Magazine when I was a 14 year old Mott The Hoople fan. Now I considered him my friend and drinking buddy. I used to stare at Bowie & Lou Reed record covers and now I’d had numerous photo sessions with one of their best known photographers, Mick Rock. I’d met Billy Idol, Glen Matlock and Ozzy Osbourne, and jammed with Johnny Thunders. I’d met industry veterans Richard Gottehrer, Jerry Brandt, Chris Blackwell, Mike Thorne and Tommy Mottola. I’d even met Leroy Neiman, he of Playboy Magazine, Sports Illustrated and handlebar mustache. I knew all of the Go-Go’s, and played on bills with the Clash, the Romantics, the Cramps, Tina Turner and the original Pretenders (half of whom are now dead). I had a cute little, model girlfriend, and, as musicians were wont to do in the pre-AIDS early ‘80’s, an occasional something on the side. It should have been satisfyingly, mightily cool.
But I was also impatient, and arrogant. I’d gone to my old place of work to gloat. I’d ignored Alex Chilton in Memphis because I had no patience for his sad drunken state. I’d discounted a friend’s band’s lead singer because she had a retail job to pay the bills (sorry Cindy Lauper), made fun of Sylvia Miles (too long of a story to tell), and in a move worthy of high school, stopped being friendly with people my band mates didn’t like (sorry Ann Sadler).
But much of what’s classified as “cool” is fleeting. What’s in one year, is out the next. I was interested in other things besides rockabilly and onward I went. And anyway, my pink drums had been stolen, my pink pants were claimed by Dibbs (he says Jerry left them to him so I didn’t argue), and Jerry’s shoes just disappeared into the ether. Where the hell did they go?
Fast forward to 2007: Levi and the Rockats are having a reunion at a 50’s fest in a Casino outside of Green Bay, Wisconsin. Although I’d stopped making music or caring much about being cool years before, I went at the behest of Smutty who was living close to me in West Seattle at the time. I figured I’d see Dibbs, Danny, Levi, and Dig (formerly Buzz), and have a laugh about the old days. What I didn’t realize was that there were tens of thousands of people coming to this event from all over the world, who for three days would be living in an alternative 1950’s reality…just like I did in 1980. I thought this world had ended in 1984 when the Stray Cats faded from view but it must have just been in a lengthy hibernation period because now they were out in droves.
There were booths and stalls selling all types of retro fifties gear: hair pomades, creepers, cowboy shirts, pants and jackets, garter belts and fezs. One guy’s even selling fifties luggage and camping gear. And the people are dressed the part. There’s the ‘Leave it to Beaver’ look with glasses (Smutty called them “the Mayberrys”), the hot rod/biker look (occasional leather jacket which is the preferred choice of the Japanese standard bearers), there are also Mexicans with 40’s looking zoot suits, big hats and bow ties, the clean cut western suited guys who would have been welcome in Hank Williams’ band at the Grand Ole Opry, as opposed to the suited Brooklyn guys who look more like something out of the first 30 minutes of Goodfellas. Ladies have the sex bomb look, the bad girl look, the 40’s look, the 50’s poodle skirt look, and the Bettie Page look. Of course, if they wear glasses, it’s got to be cat eyes. And there are lots of tattoos. It seems everybody has a tattoo. These are tribes, tribes of which I am no longer a member.
There’s not an Emo or a Goth in sight. No hip-hop, punk, crunk or funk, although there was a guy selling DVD’s that had some 60’s collections with James Brown on it. No spiky hair, Sketchers or long t-shirts under a short sleeved one. But make no mistake about it, these are the ultimate metrosexuals. They spend loads of time in front of the mirror getting their look just right for their tribal rights of passage.
There are endless fifties and Rockabilly bands on multiple stages in multiple rooms. Most of the bands look just like the audiences although there are some acts to whom this is just another casino gig. They look like something you’d see on a PBS pledge special. The older guys who actually played in bands in the 1950’s use lots of hairspray and even have mustaches.
There are bands from all over the world. There was one three piece band who all wore overalls, flannel shirts and straw cowboy hats. They looked like total hillbillies. They played Hank Williams and Johnny Cash numbers note for note. Dibbs’ joked that they’re probably from Finland. He was wrong. They were from Denmark. I met Robert Gordon, Slim Jim from the Stray Cats and guitarist extraordinaire Chris Spedding. I ran into the Collins Kids in an elevator, although it took a minute to realize it because they were in their 60’s and no longer kids. And Lemmy was there too. I’ve read that he’s very approachable but I thought I’d leave him be. Now THAT guy is cool!
Now don’t for a second think I’m knocking the scene. I admire the dedication. I like some of the fashion and dig the original music too. I’m more stunned by it. Where do these people get all the time and money to live this life?
Me? I’m wearing faded jeans, track shoes, a jacket from a running suit and my hair is too long. Nonetheless I kind of like the outsider view. It’s a Jewish tradition. I admit I started to comb my hair back on the sides as the days wore on, and bought a motorcycle t-shirt to wear, but there was no way I’d fit in. Probably the only person more out of place was Levi’s original drummer Dean Thomas, who has a beard and a hippie girlfriend, and only agreed to do the gig because there was a Chinese herbalist convention nearby that he was going to speak at. Sweet guy and a solid drummer, but I don’t think there were a lot of of people at the casino concerned about the amount of sulfides in their ginseng.
I stick out like a sore thumb. In fact, somewhere on the trip Smut was ribbing me about not being cool anymore. But then, he stopped suddenly and said, “Ya know, you made the right choice. You’re taking care of your family and preparing for your future. You did the right thing.”
That’s right folks. There was no faking it or denying it. I gave up the cool. For family and future. I guess I did the right thing. The boring thing, but the dependable thing. And my shrink would be very proud of me for stating something that shows such healthy self-esteem.
You see I take a lot of pride in all of the records I’ve made. But the ones that I think are the best, really had the least amount of pretension. They weren’t part of a scene and didn’t have much of a look associated with them. They were just made by a few guys who cared deeply about making music they thought was great. We were our own little dedicated scene. So, maybe Ed Shaughnessy was right?
Oh, you’re probably wondering who Ed Shaughnessy was. He played drums with Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Count Basie and Billie Holiday among others but is best known as the drummer with Doc Severinsen on the Johnny Carson show for over 30 years.
Ed stood out for more than just his drumming. He had large mutton chop side burns that competed with his equally large Swifty Lazar glasses and the giant medallion he always wore around his neck. I guess it was the only way he could compete with Doc’s loud jackets. He had a curly perm of a hair doo, two bass drums and basically looked ridiculous to me. But his skills as a drummer were without question. So, in 1977, during my one full semester at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, I jumped at the opportunity to see him at a workshop he was giving at a local drum shop.
Ed looked just the same as he always did. He talked about studying in India with Allah Rakah, the Indian tabla drum master who often accompanied Ravi Shankar. Ed told us how he learned to play 7 against 4 time from him and then demonstrated it for the audience. Now, at this time in my life, I was disillusioned with Berklee and Jazz and ready to leave to pursue drumming in the punk rock world. Studying how to play 7 against 4 from an Indian tabla master was not on my “to do” list. It was not cool in my world.
Begrudgingly, I stayed through the whole presentation. Ed finished up with a Q&A session and somewhere along the line a conversation started up as to what was hip or not. What Ed said has stuck with me to this day:
“People try to tell you what’s hip and what’s not hip. I’ll tell you what’s hip. Whatever you think is hip, that’s what’s hip!”
Sage advice from the man with mutton chops and a medallion.
A few days after getting the crap kicked out of me, we played again with the Clash on Broadway. It was a matinee show on June 13th 1981 and I decided to wear the pink Sid Vicious/Jerry Nolan pants. They made me feel like the coolest cat on earth, so why not? It was our 2nd show during the Clash run, so I knew what to expect: no sound check and due to all of the Clash’s gear, I couldn’t fit my whole drum kit on stage without blocking Dibbs’ and Smuts’ dance path. So, the seat cushion had to go on the front of their drum riser so I could sit. As it was so high up off the ground I was practically standing behind the kit.
Now this next part is kind of foggy but I swear that as I was playing, blood from my head wounds started to mix with sweat and drip around my ear onto the snare drum. Red droplets would bounce with every thwack. I admit, I may be mixing this gig up with another gig I did with Beat Rodeo in ’86 after cutting a finger on a can of black beans, but surviving a holdup has more of a spectacular ring to it than a simple cut from a tin can. If I’ve learned anything in all of these years is that when in doubt always go with the myth.
I realized I had reached a new level of coolness by bleeding on stage. It made me feel an Iggy-like sense of authenticity and worthiness. I had sacrificed blood for the right to rock and roll. I had put my life on the line. I had earned my stripes.
Well, it sounded good anyway.
After the show, it was still day time. In my sweaty finery I walked a few blocks south to 1500 Broadway at 43d street, the first King Karol Records shop that I worked at a few years before. I went to the back of the store where the tapes were sold and there was Richard Mackler. Richard was older than me and a Jazz drummer. Like that Bowie/Mott song said (kinda), he never got it off on that rock and roll stuff. He had a long beard and hair like Bozo the Clown: bald in the middle but long on the sides. He was funny and friendly though. I admit I came in there not just to say “hi” but to gloat. I was in a Rock and Roll band wearing pink pants, making records and playing on bills with the Clash. I got out of the retail trade and I was on my way man!
Richard was taken aback by my appearance, which is what I wanted. We talked a bit until he noticed there was still some blood behind my ears. “You’re bleeding”, he said calmly.
“All in a day’s work man,” I said. “All in a day’s work.”
Somewhere during this whole episode the crooks decided to take my watch. Of course they couldn’t figure out how to get it off my wrist so I helpfully obliged. I assumed it was better than allowing them to pull out a hatchet and chop my hand off. It was a digital watch my parents gave me when I turned 18, before you could find them for $3 on Canal Street. I was hoping for a car at the time but if it made this bunch happy it was priceless as far as I was concerned.
Then, as suddenly as the whole drama began, it was over. They must have assessed that they’d gotten all they could and hightailed it. After realizing they were gone, I got up off of the floor in a daze of relief. As I took the worst of it, everyone inquired as to my physical and mental state. How was my physical and mental state? A few minutes before, I was one wrong move away from being a dead man. I was happy…happy to be alive! A little bloody, bruised and beaten, but happy to not have a hole in my head with smoke billowing out of it.
Soon after I made my way to the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror. It was not a pretty sight. Besides the caked on streaks of blood across my face, there was a scrape below my left eye via someone’s boot. Weeks later, I still had to put makeup over it for gigs and photo shoots. You can just make it out in the shot that appeared in FACE magazine later that summer. My hair would need work too….and we know how important that was. To this day, if I get my hair cut too short, there’s a bald spot on the back of my head thanks to the butt end of a shot gun.
After exiting the crapper I realize that Tim had been handcuffed to a radiator and everyone was searching around for bolt cutters to free him. Smutty had been held at gun point on a couch nearby while the crooks interrogated a disagreeable young lady who worked there. Every time they’d ask her where the drugs or money were, she’d tell them to “F*ck off” in a voice only a New Yorker could possess, although it’s possible she may have been from Jersey. Her refusals were followed by whacking Tim into the hot radiator. It was like a Rube Goldberg contraption, one unrelated action, followed by another, and another, resulting in a finality unrelated to the initial action. Unlike the board game of Mouse Trap, with this contraption, the mouse never got the cheese.
As we assembled in the waiting area, the people that ran the place wanted us all to get our stories straight before calling the cops for fear of them finding what the crooks couldn’t. We weren’t hanging around for the cops or the possible return of the villains. They did offer us some free rehearsal time though. We passed.
I finally got to ask Dibbs how he came upon the crooks and ended up back in the rehearsal space with me and Barry. “I was having a piss when I saw one of them. I said ‘Oy, mate’ and started to make my way past them?” “’Oy mate’?!?! What were you thinking? They had stockings over their heads for Crissakes”!! In what may simultaneously be the most absurd yet logical comment ever uttered by Dibbs’ in all of our conversations in over thirty-five years, his explanation was as follows: “I thought they were a Devo band.” Realize though that when Dibbs said it, it came out, “I FOUGHT ‘AY WUR a Devo band.” You see, when Dibbs’ first came to New York straight from London, it was Halloween night 1978. Seeing people walking around the west village dressed as life sized tampons was quite a culture shock. They didn’t have Halloween in England so he thought all Americans were nuts. As time went on he began to understand the culture and discern what the norm was. Sights like that were viewed as just another night on the town in the post-punk New York of the late 70’s and early 80’s. Frankly, the bathrooms at CBGB could be scarier than some guys in ski masks.
By this time I decided it was best to go home, shower and relax in my comfy bed. We had that matinee gig with the Clash in two days and I needed to be at my best. It was an understatement to say it had been a rough evening and I felt some time to just mellow out was the best choice. A few band members, being less bloodied than I, decided a night at the Mudd Club was a better choice. While there, they ran into my little red headed model friend. We had seen each other a few more times since our first “date”, but she was not jumping into the relationship with gusto. You might say she was playing hard to get. After Dibbs filled her in on that evening’s escapades, she found a pay phone and called me to see how I was. I convinced her to come over and nurse me back to health. Well, once again, just like the year before when I got mugged on the way to the bank and ended up with the cashier, this latest brush with death paid off in unexpected ways.
Like the song said, he hit me, but now I was glad…and I was cool with that.
After making their intentions known, I get up from behind the drums and move towards the center of the room with my hands up. In the process of getting down on the ground, Barry and I were pistol whipped and kicked a few times, both in the face and back. Your natural inclination when someone speaks to you, and points a sawed off shotgun at you, is to look at them. They didn’t like that. “Keep your head down!” they’d say, and then whack you with the butt of the gun again. What is most disconcerting about being continually pistol whipped while being forced to keep your head down, is that the blood starts to run down around your ears, down across your face, over your cheeks and into your eyes. As we weren’t a Goth band, it wasn’t a good look.
In a few minutes, Dibbs joins me and Barry. He had been found coming out of the bathroom and forced back into the rehearsal space with us at gun point. They asked us where the drugs were. Dibbs said, “We don’t do drugs.” We suspected they were robbing the studio because the owners dealt drugs. We were caught in the figurative, and hopefully not literal, crossfire. They ask us for money. They’re told, “We don’t have any money”. In the stress of it all, I become the chatty Kathy problem solver. “Why don’t you just take the guitars?” I said. They responded with “If you give us their guitars what will they give us?” which was followed by another pistol whipping. Now, this causes a pause for thought: did they just remember that I was sitting behind the drum kit when they came in, or did they know the band and just reveal themselves as someone with a closer relationship? There was three of them so perhaps it was the Stray Cats? Nah, that’s a little too farfetched.
So, the misery continues…
They ask Barry how much money he has. After he answers, they tell him that if he has a dollar more or a dollar less, they will kill him. As they go through Barry’s pockets, my mind is racing: how much money did I have? What did I buy on the way here? How much was that sandwich and Pepsi? Did I include the tax? Meanwhile Barry’s pocket change is close enough to his pre-stated amount to satisfy the crooks. Now it’s my turn. After checking my pockets, whatever amount I told them was not within a dollar of whatever I had earlier calculated. I was at least ten dollars off. With the gun pressed firmly behind my left ear, I’m told, very calmly, “I’m going to have to kill you now.” While it was probably only a few seconds, it seemed like an eternity for the follow up question to be asked. “You don’t think I’d do it, do you?” “I think you’d do it”, I say calmly. From across the room another voice pipes up. “They got the message.”
After getting back from Texas, the whirlwind continued. The band, who already were on shaky ground with their record company after recording a whole album that went into the dumpster, now decide that their manager belongs in the same place. While I didn’t think it was the best move, I was the new guy. When you’re in a band for less than two months, and you don’t have a resume like Joe Walsh’s, you realize you don’t have much of a say in anything. Heck, even Joe Walsh couldn’t tell Frey and Henley what to do. “Hey guys, I don’t really think this “Hotel California” concept is too cool. Maybe I could write some stuff like ‘Rocky Mountain Way’ and…” They probably gave him another beer and told him to sit down, shut up and noodle when told. He was probably happy with the beer. So, I sat back and let it happen. Trouble was, I didn’t really like beer.
We soon met with the record company, who except for Chris Blackwell, never understood the band. They were hoping for the next Steely Dan or Doobie Brothers and we weren’t that. Blackwell was at least a forward thinker. Since the band was known for their live act, Blackwell said he wanted to do a live album, and like he did with Toots and the Maytals, put it out in 48 hours to garner some press excitement. In the back of my mind I’m thinking, “This is a cheap way to fulfill the record contract and now we have no manager to say ‘Hold on there bub’”. But, being the low level Joe Walsh that I was, I shut up and hoped for the best. Still, I got to meet Chris Blackwell, which was pretty damn cool. And after thinking about it, I think I was more of an Ariel Bender. He joined Mott the Hoople after spending a few years in Spooky Tooth as Luther Grosvenor. He replaced Mick Ralphs who went onto Bad Company. And, no, I couldn’t be a member of Bad Company because they were all in bigger bands than me. Well, maybe Boz Burrell. He only played on some low selling King Crimson albums beforehand. Wait a minute: I played on nothing before the Rockats. Jesus, I wasn’t even a Boz Burrell! I was “Sub-Burrell”.
Meanwhile, in spite of being Sub-Burrell, I could still look my Bryan Ferry best. I met a cute girl out at a club who was in a modeling shoot that was in the Soho News. My kind of gal. Our eyes literally met on the dance floor and our heads turned towards each other as we stopped in our tracks and said “Hello” to each other. True, she was walking by holding another fellows hand, but that meant nothing in those days. We realized that we go to all the same spots, so we agree to look out for each other in the days to come. The second night of recording the live album there she is at the bar. She comes over to my place, yaddda yadda, we “hook up”… I begin to think to myself, “Maybe this live album thing wasn’t such a bad idea after all?
The record comes out the same week that the Clash start their historic run at Bonds. They have two bands open for them at every show, including a local act. We’re scheduled at the first show that’s cancelled, but we play another show after the run re-starts. Barry and I meet Clash mouthpiece Kosmo Vinyl afterwards who offers us one of the Sunday matinee shows a couple of weeks out. Why Barry and I didn’t get an agent’s cut is one of the sad realities of the music business. I bet Boz Burrell made more money while in King Crimson.
With no shows in between, the band decides to rehearse the night before the matinee, so we don’t suck in front of all the pre-teens. At a break in the rehearsal, everyone else goes out for a pee and a smoke, except me and Barry. We are left alone with the equipment (doesn’t it always seem like me and Barry end up together in these situations?).
This is my first blog post since back surgery. It’s not like my memory turned to Swiss cheese or anything like that. I just got busy with other things like learning how to get out of bed, learning how to get into bed, and trying to get comfortable while in bed. But as for being cool, it had to wait. Well the wait’s up…
So it’s the spring of ’81 and the band is making its way to Texas. Before we left for this set of shows, we had been offered a show opening for Cheap Trick at a Texas baseball stadium which the band decided to pass up as there was only a few hundred dollars offered and it would never cover expenses. Everyone figured our album would be out soon enough, the record company would back us and there’d be plenty other big opportunities. All we had to do was record an album. Patience fellas, patience.
Now here’s where it gets fuzzy. I know there were three gigs booked and Houston and Dallas were on the docket. The other was either in Austin or Lubbock. Those potholes on Memory Lane will get you every time. I suspect it was Lubbock because there were definitely some tasteless Buddy Holly death jokes. I don’t recall anyone singing Don McLean’s “American Pie” though. That’s a relief. I’ll resist the temptation to make “Chevy” and “levee” jokes though.
Now, again, here’s where some fuzz sets in between the ears. As I recall the club in Houston was in a dumpster when we arrived. Then, when we arrived at the supposed gig in Dallas, we found out that it was actually the night before. A certain, “party hard” band member had received the call from the booking agent about the change a few weeks back. Unfortunately, he was full of post gig alcohol and had an added distraction having to do with his Chevy and some female levee (Sorry: the temptation was just too great to pass up on that low hanging fruit). Anyway, you know what they say about men who think with their gear sticks….The message was never communicated to the correct party. See, you don’t have to be old to have potholes on Memory Lane. Just drunk and horny.
Finally, we play in Lubbock (I’ve now convinced myself that it wasn’t Austin). But, the luck of Texas continued as the band vehicle broke down a few miles short of the gig. After contacting the club, they sent two vehicles, which were enough to take us, the gear and our luggage to the club. I had the pleasure of riding in the back of a pickup truck, which in spite of being in the south was still freaking cold in March.
The uneventful gig was played and the question was “now what?” Luckily, it was the last gig of the tour, but we had planned on driving back to New York. With no van and little money, we were left with limited choices. We found a cheap motel and waited until the vehicle damage could be assessed. The report came back that it would take up to a week for the parts to arrive. We were stuck in Texas for the time being.
Barry and I had other ideas though. He being the older, responsible one, and me, being the youngest and a momma’s boy, both knew we could cobble together enough shekels to get plane tickets back to NYC. In keeping with our character descriptions, he called his girlfriend. I called my parents. All we had to do was get to the airport and the tickets would be there awaiting us.
When we get to the airport, I show some ID and my ticket is granted. Barry though, had no ID. This is something that may be hard to comprehend in 2015, but in 1981 this seemed to make perfect sense to Barry. My guess is he’d been mugged enough times on the streets of New York to not want to replace his driver’s license once again. As I didn’t drive, I had no worries. But, the ticket agent wouldn’t give Barry his ticket. We showed him drum sticks, a guitar and a tour itinerary. Still a no go. What I recall finally worked was Barry showing him a copy of the band’s 45 with his picture on it. The agent begrudgingly relented but made Barry promise he’d send him an autographed copy of our LP when it finally came out. In a post 9/11 world, this could probably never happen again. You gotta have ID….and what ticket agent under the age of forty would want vinyl records anymore?
Relieved that the tour is finally coming to an end, we take our seats on the plane. As I recall we sat in the last row, right near the bathrooms. Once the seatbelt sign is turned off, I decide I should shave before I fall asleep. Perhaps I had visions in my mind of adoring fans welcoming us at the airport ala the Beatles flying into Kennedy Airport in 1964. It was probably just to break up the boredom. Nonetheless, during this pursuit, the plane starts jerking. I rush through my shave, and get back to my seat only slightly bloodied. In the meantime the turbulence is getting pretty bad. Everyone is ordered to stay in their seats and keep their seat belts on. Before I can say “bebop a lula” an overhead compartment opens up, carryon luggage falling to the floor. People are starting to freak out. The curse of Texas is apparently still upon us. I assume the end is near. Am I really going to be a rock and roll tragedy? I’ve no discography and I’m not twenty-seven yet! Well at least I have ID so they can identify my body. They’ll have to check Barry’s dental records to figure out who he is. Curse you Texas!
It must have been when we got out of Texan air space when the turbulence subsided. The rest of the flight was uneventful. When the rest of the band got back to New York a week or so later, they started talking about firing the booking agent and the manager. Obviously, it was their fault that the van broke down. I think I chimed in that they caused the turbulence too.
Observations on my 84 year old father: “Back to the Drawing Board” Edition
Dad: Curt, I need a CPA.
Dad: Well I got that death benefit and I don’t want to pay taxes on it.
Me: Dad, you may need to pay taxes on it. If that’s what the law says…
Dad: I tried to put it into an IRA, but they said I was too old. Why would they punish people for being too old?
Me: I don’t think they’re punishing you for being too old. I think IRA’s were created so people would be encouraged to save for retirement. According to the IRS, you’ve been retired for 17 years. Just go to H&R Block.
Dad: I think this is too complex for them.
Me: Dad, I’m sure they’ve dealt with people acquiring death benefits before.
Sometimes people make things more difficult than they need to be. Sometimes they just don’t want to pay their taxes. Take the Fogelman brothers, Mitch and Murray.* They owned the Rivoli Merchandise Corporation, established in 1961 at 50 Howard Street in Manhattan. They were near the corner of Mercer Street, just behind Canal Street and Canal Hardware, the shop my dad owned.
Rivoli was one of the many businesses in the area that had accounts with Canal Hardware. They would buy stuff like nuts and bolts, brooms and mops, Lysol and Lemon Pledge. Most would pay too much for these items in exchange for neighborhood convenience. Bleach, which would cost no more than a $1.99 a gallon at the supermarket, would cost $3.99 at Canal Hardware. When you need something quick, and there’s no real supermarkets in the neighborhood, as was the case in 1990, you’re OK with paying a 100% premium for a counter brush delivered to your door.
Rivoli never paid on time. Not that they didn’t have the $47.83 they owed. They just were too busy and disorganized to get around to paying it. It was my job to go and collect, not that I was any sort of mob enforcer. I was a gentle, friendly reminder to middle aged Jewish business owners who knew my father for 35 years, that it was time to hand over a check for that toilet brush.
This one time though my dad wanted me to enquire about renting their space. He was flush that month and as narcissists have grandiose ideas, he was convinced he needed to expand. The money was burning a hole in his pocket and the IRS would only take it if he didn’t spend it…or hide it. As Rivoli had been around for close to thirty years and always complained about how lousy business was, he thought they might be happy to just rent us their space.
Through the back door and past the garbage bins I go, across Howard street and over towards Mercer. As you enter Rivoli, all you can see in their dimly lit warehouse, that probably hadn’t been painted since the Truman administration, are half open boxes strewn about in complete disarray. Falling out of them are tchotchkes. These are packages of stuff you’d see in 99 cent stores or the junk you’d win when you turned in your skee-ball tickets. I’m talking about colorful erasers and pencils, super bouncy balls, spinning tops, plastic rings, etc. Otherwise known as junk. Perhaps even known as crap. Take your pick.
Mitch would be darting amongst the flotsam and jetsam with a pencil behind his ear while Murray would be at a desk in a side office with papers and reams of documents strewn about. When Murray looked at me, it would be with the disdain of someone who’s had their rightful misery interrupted by someone who dares to have the luxury of being 25 years younger than him at their disposal. Usually he just dealt with whatever papers he had in front of him, comb over flopping across his hand which held his forehead in place. They had a young, African-American bookkeeper/office assistant who said nothing but also had a look of utter disgust on her face at all times. She seemed to know she needed Rivoli to make a living and barely tolerated it, Mitch, Murray or visitors. We all need a goal in life and this was her constant reminder of what not to aspire to.
As for Mitch and Murray they both were middle-aged and overweight, had comb overs, half glasses on a chain around their necks and rashes on their elbows. Their best days were behind them and they had to pay the bills, put the kids through school, keep the wife out of the few hairs they had left on their sweaty heads and hope to live long enough to retire to Florida with the money they still had after they paid the tax man his vig.
I’d call out to Mitch who’d never remember my name, but would remember my father.
“How’s Lloyd?” he’d ask.
“Not bad,” I’d say. “I need to pick up a check.”
“Sure” he’d say. “Hey Murray! Give the kid a check. Canal Hardware. How much is it?”
“$47.83,” I’d say.
Then I’d ask him how business was.
“Business? It’s terrible! And those fu*king gonniffs at the IRS…”
Murray, who was silent through his exuded misery, would momentarily raise his head to interrupt Mitch, to pipe in and second the point: “Fu*king gonniffs ! ! ! !”
Back to Mitch…
“It’s worse than ever!”
I figured it was time to make my pitch…“Well, why don’t you just let us rent your space? You wouldn’t have to worry about this facachta business and can just make money off of renting it to us.”
Mitch, who was a whirling dervish of diabetes and seemingly a minute away from a heart attack at all times, stopped dead in his tracks.
“Why should we rent to you?”
I replied “Like you said, business is terrible.” Mitch looks me dead in the eye and with an air of outrage and defiance says “Where’s it written that business should be good?” Murray joins in and barks out, “Forty years feast, forty years famine!”
The bookkeeper seems even more deflated than before. She wished they’d taken the deal. I take my check and go on my way.
It’s back to the drawing board for the bookkeeper and Lou. Especially Lou. The IRS will do that to you. Life will do that to you.
*I must confess that I can’t guarantee that Murray is the correct name. I know Mitch is correct because I googled it, but for the sake of myth, let’s all just agree that Murray sounds appropriate. I know it’s the same as Glengarry Glen Ross. Just work with me here.
In Detroit I experienced something new: having someone from the club stand lookout with a sawed off shotgun as your gear was loaded out in the wee hours of the morning. I appreciated that the gun was pointed downwards at all times. I sensed that it could blow your head clean off, and personally, I liked my head right where it was, thank you. It wouldn’t be the last time I’d see a sawed off shotgun.
We had a Chicago contingent waiting for us which the band had developed on previous trips. Some of them followed us to Champaign, Illinois where we played the University of Illinois, and Carbondale, where we played Southern Illinois University. I can’t help but notice the irony in the fact that although most rock and roll musicians never attended college, they’ve probably visited more colleges than most other people to play gigs. In the 80’s colleges had budgets to put on rock and roll shows which were great as fill-ins between club dates. The facilities are often cleaner as well as the attendees. As for the staff, the organizers seemed to hand out yellow shirts that said “Security” on them and if you could figure out how to put one on, you could be on the security staff. That seemed to be all the training you needed. I guess they got a free meal out of it…and the t-shirt.
After going through the normal pre-show “what will I wear tonight” period of pondering, I decided to go for a small 50’s bowtie. It worked with my flecked jackets. All of a sudden Smutty yelled out, “Check out Lewis’ tiny bowtie!” Dibbs added “That’s your style Lewis. Stick with that.” Well, I wanted to fit in, and clipping on a bowtie was easy enough, so I stuck with it. “That’s your look. You could be known for that,” said Smut. Dibbs closed the subject with a nodding “Nice,” but when Dibbs said it, it actually sounded as if he was saying “Noice.” It was a phrase he would also use when describing liver and onions. I think my bowtie smelled better but if it was a real sweaty gig I guess that would be debatable
In Minneapolis we played at a club called “Duffy’s”, which doubled as a strip joint during the day. While waiting for the crew to set up for sound check you could entertain yourself by enjoying a cold beverage while being additionally entertained by professional topless dancers. Not amateurs: professionals. Only the best for traveling rock and roll bands.
Smutty carried a phone book with him that also doubled as a diary. I am here now confessing that I looked in it one time. In it he mentioned how happy he was that their old drummer had been replaced by “cool Lewis.” Thanks Smut.