I Am the Coolest Man on Earth Part 16

I Am the Coolest Man on Earth Part 16

It became obvious pretty quickly that life on the road, like club life, could get mighty boring. It was mostly endless driving in the van of farts. There was music and lots of jokes but also lots of gas. However, when possible, we did exactly as we did in the clubs: chased girls, looked for inebriants and occasionally found interesting music. When not playing or driving, we also searched for clothes.

With each band member sporting a hair dryer, we tested the electrical capacity of many a roadside motel. We may have been the only band to blow hotel fuses from coast to coast until the arrival of Motley Crue and Poison a few years later, a badge of honor we all wore with pride. As the crew wanted to partake in the fruits of the road, they also spiffed up their hair. This could make the mirrors awfully crowded. Like the New York Dolls’ said: “Your mirror’s getting jammed up with all your friends!”

You learn pretty quickly that certain towns have a flavor all their own. Like New Orleans. I really looked forward to New Orleans. It had a great rock and roll history, being the home of Fats Domino, Little Richard, and their great drummer Earl Palmer who went on to play on so many of Phil Spector’s hits. Plus Louis Armstrong…and Mardi Gras of course. At the hotel, the desk clerk strongly recommended we not walk around after dark though. Hmm…no fun until we get to the club I guess.

At the club we were booked in (Jeds? Jimmy’s? Ole Man Rivers?), we ventured out into the house before the show to get a sense of the crowd, see if there were any people we knew or perhaps make new friends (pick up girls). I soon found myself surrounded by a group of pimply young fellows. One of them had the obligatory rockabilly bandana around his neck. His hair was incredibly greasy, and combed into some sort of unsophisticated quiff. He also seemed to have a deformed hand and may have been missing a few fingers. As he and his oily cohorts closed ranks, it was somehow communicated to me that the last time the band was in New Orleans, the drummer had ripped one of them off for drugs. As I was the drummer, they came to me to collect, not knowing that it was Jerry they were looking for, not me.

As a New Yorker, I immediately responded with my mouth. I told them I had nothing to do with it and that it was Jerry who ripped them off. It was behavior like that which got him exited from the band. At that point the wall parted and I just went on my way as they stood there disappointed. What could have turned into some sort of a “Drug Store Cowboy” moment, evaporated into nothingness. These guys were just kids, out of their league. My New York, “Who the f*ck are you?” attitude, seemed to stop them in their tracks. If they only knew what a momma’s boy I really was, they could have had me peeling off twenties pronto…assuming I had any.

I saw the finger challenged guy several more times over the next day or so, as well as future trips to New Orleans. He was known to us as “George the Max,” and while he was friendly, he seemed like a character out of a Tom Waits’ song. We were told he was a junkie, ergo why he ended up in that situation with Jerry. Maybe he was a just a dabbler trying to make a few extra dollars. Who knows what the real story was. Goodness knows what his life must have been like, so I’m in no position to judge him. People can be quite cruel to those who are different and don’t quite fit in. Little did I know that he was actually quite an accomplished guitarist and in time would play with bands I have a lot of respect for. Punk Rock was a good place for misfits, junkies, sleazeballs, oddballs and greaseballs. It’s a way for the uncool to be cool.

I don’t remember if it was raining though.

© Curt Weiss 2015

I Am the Coolest Man on Earth Part 15

Stones asleep

I Am the Coolest Man on Earth Part 15

While I can see the rehearsal in my mind, I remember very little other than going through the songs and being asked to use the butt end of the stick to play the snare drum louder. I had barely played the drums in over a year so I was in no position to argue. To this day I still hold the sticks the same way. Whenever I see a drummer playing the snare with the traditional end of the stick, I question whether they’ll ever get a good enough “thwak” out of it. It’s hard to break old habits. Cool habits.

After the rehearsal, we went our separate ways and everything was left up in the air. The next day, late afternoon if I recall correctly, my doorbell rang. I had just moved in and didn’t have a phone installed yet. This is before cell phones, texting and e-mail, so if someone wanted to talk to you immediately, the only other options were physically finding you or sending a Western Union telegram. I answered the door and it’s Barry, asking if I could rehearse again that evening. He only lived about five blocks away, on the second avenue side of CBGB, so I assume he got a call from Dibbs or Smut to walk over and find me. He knew where I lived as Dibbs and Jerry had lived there previously. As kismet would have it, I wasn’t working that day and was home unpacking boxes. As to whether I could rehearse that night, I let him know that I would find time between putting my socks into drawers to get there.

It must have been decided after the first rehearsal that I was in the band because on the way to the second one Dibbs said, with a coy smile, “Well Lewis, I guess you’re a Rockat now.” I’m sure he thought it somewhat ironic that this fellow who a little over a year before had appeared before him in red flares and a shag hairdo (his description, not mine) was now in this highly stylized band. I sure found it ironic. As for his tone, it didn’t convey honor or the winning of a prize. It conveyed to me that I was in for an adventure that was both overwhelming but also underwhelming by its daily, grueling mundanity. It was almost like he was saying “kid, you have no idea what you’re getting into.” He wasn’t kidding.

I was told after the next night’s gig at Zappa’s in Brooklyn, we’d be on a multi-week tour heading south and into the mid-west. As a new comer to the road, I was advised on what to bring: the number of suitcases (one), pairs of pants (three), etc. One more thing. “You’ll need a hairdryer,” Smutty told me.

I spent the day gathering up my road needs, getting someone to keep an eye on my apartment and quitting my job at the record shop. There was a moment when I was getting ready for that night’s gig…my first gig…and I looked in the bathroom mirror and noted the moment. I was 21, in a band with a major label record deal and a new apartment that Jerry Nolan had previously lived in. The bathroom had a shower and tub in it too. My previous apartment had a tub in the kitchen and a bathroom in the hall. I smiled as I fixed my perfectly coiffed hair and adjusted my collar. I felt as if I had made a breakthrough and I was on an upwards path towards eternal coolness. I’d started March 3rd at my humdrum record store gig. On March 5th I was a professional musician. It was like I had won the lottery.

Before the show, in a mentoring and helpful gesture I’m sure, one unnamed band member caringly asked if I was nervous. Before I could answer, I smelled something horrible. I suspected what it was but being the new guy didn’t feel I could say anything. Before I knew it, another band member said, “What’s that fuc*ing awful smell?” The previously caring partner was also a silent cheese cutter. He was now on a chair with his legs over his head, cackling and spreading his butt cheeks…yes, his pants were still on thankfully. Dibbs was right: I was in for an adventure. And yes, the passing of gas, not always silently, would soon reveal itself to be a universal activity on the road. Cool? Nah. Did it break up the boredom as well as the wind? Yes.

After the show we got in the van and started on our way to Washington DC to play two sets at the 930 club. The equipment went into the trailer and the band got into the van. There were no seats in the rear, and as we were all tired, within minutes everyone tried to catch some shut eye for the four hour drive. With crew members up front driving, all five of us were on the bare floor of the moving van in the dead of the night. We were all lying in the same direction, almost as if we were group spooning. With a certain sort of comfort and satisfaction, I silently said to myself, “I’m one of the guys.” It was like being in a gang without the guns and knives. There may be nothing cooler than camaraderie.

© Curt Weiss 2014

I Am the Coolest Man on Earth Part 14

 

I Am the Coolest Man on Earth Part 14

A few days before Smutty called me, I heard from one of my Soho News pals, the one who previously dated Jerry. She needed to move out of her apartment. She hadn’t paid her rent in two months and wanted to know if I would pay it in exchange for taking over the lease. This was a no brainer. The place was cheaper and better than my present apartment, in the downtown area and had a great pedigree. It’s hard to believe there was a time when you could walk into a landlord’s office and work out a deal like this…all for less than $500 for the landlord and a few hundred for her to sweeten the deal. It was also three blocks from CBGB in the heart of Little Italy.

Still not fully unpacked, I put together an outfit to meet the band. We were going to rehearse so I didn’t think it was necessary to dress like I was going clubbing. A tuxedo jacket and a cummerbund were overkill. I decided to wear tight black jeans, no glasses (of course!) and the two toned loafers. I had a red shirt that was similar in style to the one Elvis wore in Jailhouse Rock while singing “Baby I Don’t Care.” Mine had a deeper neck line though…and I did care. As for the band, I already knew Dibbs as he used to sleep on the sofa at the apartment I was taking over. The rest of them were unknowns.

I went to an address in the West Village, walked down some steps and rang the bell. Before I knew it we were all sitting around and talking about the situation: the label wasn’t happy with the record and the band wasn’t happy with the drummer. Dibbs and the Sunbeam Bread Girl vouched for me and they all seemed friendly enough. It was all down to whether I could play the drums and learn the songs. I had seen the band a dozen times so I didn’t think that would be a problem. Just swing and act like Jerry behind the kit.

Before we left Smutty said, “You’ve got to be cool if you’re wearing those shoes.” Never doubt the extra edge that a solid pair of two-toned loafers will give you.

© Curt Weiss 2014

I Am the Coolest Man on Earth Part 13

TwoTone

 

I Am the Coolest Man on Earth Part 13

The pursuit of cool continued on through the fall of ’80 and winter of ’81, going out to clubs with Priscilla, her roommate the Sunbeam Bread Girl, and the Soho News crowd. During that time I acquired a beloved pair of two-tone loafers. The shoe was basically black but the instep was a gray woven material, almost like an old chair. I got some white shoe polish, and after about ten coats, I got it to just the shade I was happy with. Never mind that it was the frostiest time of year and I wasn’t wearing fully enclosed foot wear. They were cool and that took precedence. Despite my grandparent’s persistent hounding to wear proper footwear, risking the possibility that I would “catch cold,” my priorities were not the same as theirs. I had mentally moved off of the shtetl, and despite pistol whippings, had no concerns of getting caught up in a pogrom…with a bad cough. Still I was looking to play drums for someone.

The Rockats went to England in December of ’80 to work on what was to be their debut album. The New Yorkabillies sustained themselves by venturing out to see bands like Buzz and the Flyers and Levi Dexter & The Ripcords, both of whom were searching for that ever elusive record deal. They both had indie label singles, records which still stand up today. They looked great and sounded great. Both bands had top notch drummers (Rocco DeRubeis (Rock Roll) for the Flyers & Patrick Brown (Pat Brown) for the Ripcords) so I didn’t see a spot for me there. I’d have to sustain myself through the acquisition of records and clothes, and constant club hopping ‘till the wee hours of the morning. A night out was not deemed successful unless you exited from a club in daylight just as other people were making their way to work.

March 3rd, 1981, I got a call at work from the Sunbeam Bread Girl. Seems the Rockats were back in town and the recordings didn’t go as planned. They were looking for drummers through back channels. She told Smutty about me and within minutes he was on the phone asking me to come by and try out for the band. The big question on my mind: What would I wear?

© Curt Weiss 2014

I Am the Coolest Man on Earth Part 12

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I Am the Coolest Man on Earth Part 12

After getting mugged, pistol whipped, and laid, I can’t say I made many lifestyle changes, except to say I doubled my efforts in pursuit of being the coolest man on earth. More late nights out, more stimulants, more clothes. Ya know, good clean fun. Somewhere along the way I acquired a full length black overcoat with a velvet Teddy Boy collar that lasted me several years. Through Priscilla I met DJ Ivan Ivan who spun discs at Danceteria and the Mudd. We ran into each other at Bleeker Bobs record shop one afternoon and he said he liked my coat. That made my day.

Note though that much of life in club land was spent doing a lot of nothing and nursing a beer. You’d hope to run into a friend and enjoy an intoxicant or two, but most of the time you’d just stand around trying to look cool. One night in the Fall of 1980, I took notice of a petite young lady working the entrance to the upstairs space at the Mudd. I recognized her as the girl posing with a saxophone from a set of photos the Rockats did for Italian Vogue. She was really cute, wearing a full length coat of her own and hair like a helmet. I asked her how she made her hair stay that way and she motioned as if using hairspray, running her finger in front of her hair slowly saying “pssssssssssssssssssss”, with the slightest hint of a lisp. She told me her name was Debi M. Within a few minutes she said, “You wanna make out?” I was more than willing.

That night we went club hopping with about seven of her pals. Must have hit at least three clubs. When we’d get to a new club, no one paid…except me. I don’t know if they had me figured out as someone who had money (untrue) or a foolish patsy (probably true), but when the door man would say, “You all need to pay for one” everyone would run through and I would be left standing there.

Once inside, there’d be dancing and kissing, but that full length coat of hers was like body armor. I just couldn’t find my way through or around that damn thing. It was like a chastity suit for God’s sake.

We took a cab home and she made it clear that I wasn’t coming back to her place. Oddly enough she called me the next day to get together. After she stole something from a grocery store, we went and had coffee. She told me she wanted to be an actress and I scoffed, saying “Everyone in NY wants to be famous.” She sneered at me and said “I’m not like everyone else.” We talked about music and I asked her if she was interested in a saxophone my roommate wanted to sell. We agreed on a price of $45. Somehow or another she convinced me to give her the saxophone and she would pay me later.

Let it be known that by using the generally accepted Consumer Price Index numbers from 1980 to 2014, I have calculated that Debi Mazar now owes me approximately $129.67.

I was not the coolest man on earth.

© Curt Weiss 2014

I Am the Coolest Man on Earth, Pt. 11

 

I Am the Coolest Man on Earth, Pt. 11

Shoes: check. Hair: check. Clothing: check. What now? What else: go out to clubs all the time. We all liked music, dancing, clothes, stimulants…it was how you’d win friends and influence people. Like Ace Face in Quadrophenia, you could be a bell boy in the daytime, but at night you could re-birth yourself as whatever you wanted to be.

But my time as a bell boy, I mean retail record store employee, had its upside. I was able to keep up on the latest releases and dig out old chestnuts. Plus, “samples” always made friends happy. It also taught me the great lesson of blood. As stated in part 1 (see http://bit.ly/1vAO2Or), bleeding is cool.

During a Saturday afternoon lull at the shop I worked at on Lexington Avenue between 85th and 86th, I decided it would be a good time to take a deposit to the bank. I never got there. The two fellows standing by the bus enclosure pulled out a pistol and clocked me with it before I could get there. They were a few thousand dollars richer and I had a knot in my head.

Barely a week later, a cute cashier and I went to see Eight Eyed Spy at Tier 3. One of their guitarists worked at the same shop as us so it wasn’t really a date. Somehow or another, in the cab on the way back uptown, she says something about how she hopes I never have to get held up again, and before you know it…

Through this experience I learned a few lessons that have always stuck with me. First, I learned that getting pistol whipped isn’t like in the movies where people are immediately knocked out cold. I fell to the ground but I was still conscious. I started to get up but the gun wielder immediately pointed the gun at me. It was the international signal to stay put. I fully agreed with him that at that moment it would be safer to stay on the ground until they got away.

The second lesson was facing down guns can get you laid. It could get you killed too, but what a way to go?

© Curt Weiss 2014

I Am the Coolest Man on Earth Pt 10

THree Flowers

I Am the Coolest Man on Earth Pt 10

Shoes were next on the list. Sneakers and Florsheims wouldn’t do. The red Capezios I bought a few years prior from the snobby sales help were tres outré. Stiv Bators wore filthy white ones but they were sold out. Red made sense at the time. The key portion of that last sentence was “at the time”. Cool is always elusive so you need to keep on your game …or so I thought. Priscilla told me about a shop called the Civilian in the west 20’s. I found a pair of reasonably priced, vintage style new loafers: not too pointy, but with a single dignified stud/faux buckle. They seemed to have an air of Bryan Ferry but not overly formal. Priscilla approved.

But what of my hair? Keep it short on the sides and back, some length up front, and lots of grease. Thick ones like Royal Crown, Dixie Peach, Nu Nile or Murrays were good on the top. Thin ones like Yardley’s English Lavender or Three Flowers Brilliantine were good on the sides and back. The packaging had kitsch graphics on them too. Nu Nile and Murrays were often sold closer to the products for black people and had packaging with people on them sporting naturals. Kind of like I looked in high school. In spite of being sold in the same section as Afrosheen, it must have been used for conking as grease would be too weighty for a fro. These brands are all still available wherever fine hair care products are sold. They all smelled great too. Each scent can still transport me back to 1980, where I was trying to transport myself to 1954. The way to live in those moments was to look forward to the past. Huh?

© Curt Weiss 2014