We are ugly but we have the music

 

 

“Dylan Thomas lived and wrote at the Chelsea hotel and from here he sailed out to die.”

~ written on a plaque by the front entrance of the Chelsea.

 

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I first became aware of the Hotel Chelsea while still a relative youngster back home in Australia.

In, I guess, November of 1978, I was watching the evening news with my parents when a story came on about Sid Vicious having killed his girlfriend Nancy in a Hotel in New York. If memory serves, there was footage of Nancy’s bagged body being taken out on a gurney and some shots of the hotel exterior.

The visuals didn’t make much of an impression, nothing ever looked particularly interesting in the grainy, dim TV footage of the time. The story, however, stuck because it was such a surprise to me to discover that famous people could behave in that way. This was all pre-O.J. of course.

Some years later, I went and saw the movie Sid and Nancy in the cinema and I think that may have been the event that cemented the Chelsea in my consciousness. Over the years I stumbled upon more and more stories about the hotel and the colourful people who had and did inhabit it.

By the time I’d read about Patti Smith, Andy Warhol, and Arthur Miller living and working within its bohemian environs, I’d become a bit of a bohemian myself.  I considered myself a working musician in an art-rock band and had begun to read far more widely than the SF novels of my youth. To me at this time, the Chelsea had begun to feel like a counter-culture hub and I was frustrated that nothing like it existed in my part of the World.

I was drawn to the images I’d see of some of my musical and literary heroes photographed standing atop the wrought iron balconies that bedeck the hotel facade; the grimy streets of New York laid out beneath them.

I never, however, believed for a second that one day I would have the opportunity to see the Chelsea with my own eyes. It seemed a very unlikely eventuality but, hey,  never say never.

I’m aware that there are some readers who may not be as familiar with the Hotel Chelsea as others and so here is a bit of a potted history to get you up to speed, as it were.

Completed in 1885 (though, it was opened to residents the previous year), the building now known as the Hotel Chelsea was originally one of New York’s first private apartment cooperatives. The red-brick building was designed by Philip Hubert in the Queen Anne Revival style (some say Victorian Gothic).

Amazingly, at the time of its completion, the Chelsea would have dominated the skyline. At just twelve stories, the hotel was then the tallest building in New York.

Sadly, a confluence of social and financial shifts in and around Manhattan led to the Chelsea going bust and closing its doors. It reopened in 1909 as the Hotel Chelsea under the management of one A. R. Walty.

After the hotel also went bankrupt, it was purchased in 1939 by Joseph Gross, Julius Krauss, and David Bard, who, as partners managed the hotel together until the early 1970s. After Joseph Gross and Julius Krauss both died, the management fell to the famously eccentric Stanley Bard, son of David.

It was under the guiding hand of Stanley that the hotel began its metamorphosis into the bohemian sanctum of artists, musicians, and writers that was to build its fame.

It has been said that reading through the list of Chelsea Hotel residents is like watching a highlight reel of 20th century American culture.
It includes writers such as Mark Twain, Tennessee Williams, Dylan Thomas (who wrote the final draft of ‘Under Milkwood’ at the Chelsea – and shortly thereafter, was carted off to hospital to die, allegedly, of alcohol poisoning), Brendan Behan (who would also die of the drink), Arthur Miller (who wrote ‘After the Fall’ there), Jack Kerouac (who worked on ‘On the Road’ there), Gore Vidal, O. Henry, Allen Ginsberg, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Thomas Wolfe, Charles Bukowski, William S. Burroughs (who wrote ‘The Naked Lunch’ there), and Arthur C. Clarke who wrote ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ there).

The list of artists is also impressive; Larry Rivers, Christo and Jeanne-Claude (Christo wrapped Jeanne-Claude, his wife, there), Jackson Pollock, Doris Chase, Bernard Childs, Claudio Edinger, Australian painter Brett Whiteley, Yves Klein (who wrote his Manifeste de l’hôtel Chelsea there in April 1961), Ching Ho Cheng, and Robert Mapplethorpe all resided there for a time. Sculptor René Shapshak and his wife lived here; his bust of Harry Truman displayed in the lobby. Andy Warhol shot his film Chelsea girls in the hotel.

Film stars and directors like James Dean, Stanley Kubrick, Uma Thurman, Mitch Hedberg,  Eddie Izzard, Miloš Forman, Ethan Hawke, Dennis Hopper, Squat Theatre Company,  Elliott Gould, Elaine Stritch, Shirley Clarke, Michael Imperioli, Jane Fonda, Dave Hill, Russell Brand, Lillie Langtry, the Warhol film star Viva and her daughter Gaby Hoffman, and Edie Sedgwick either called the Chelsea home or were frequent visitors over the years.

And various music icons including Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan (who penned the ‘Blonde on Blonde’ album there), Leonard Cohen (who wrote about his tryst with Joplin there in his songs ‘Chelsea Hotel #1 and ‘Chelsea Hotel #2’), Dee Dee Ramone, Joni Mitchell, Madonna, Nico, Cher, Graham Nash, Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, Tom Waits, John Cale, Édith Piaf, Jimi Hendrix, Alice Cooper, Rufus Wainwright, Jim Morrison, Pink Floyd, Canned Heat, The Grateful Dead, and, last (and least) Sid Vicious were all also either residents or very familiar faces at the hotel.

Most of these multi-various celebs, along with a collection of failed artists, musicians, junkies, and poets were presided (and fawned) over by the much loved – if somewhat confounding – figure of Stanley Bard.

Arthur Miller, who had christened the Chelsea “the high spot of the surreal”, reminisced (in an article he penned) about a time when the grit in his hotel room carpet had gotten so deep that he erupted in a rage over the phone.
“For Christ’s sake, Stanley,” he recalled shouting, “don’t you have a vacuum cleaner in the house?!”
“Of course! We have lots of them,” Stanley replied.
“Then why aren’t they ever used?”
“They’re not used?”
“Stanley! You know goddamned well they don’t use them!”
“I never heard of such a thing! Why don’t they use them?”
“You’re asking me why they don’t use them?”
“Well, you’re the one who brought it up.”
“Look, just get a vacuum cleaner up here and let’s forget this conversation.”
“Fine. How are you otherwise?”
“Truthfully, there is no otherwise — all I am is a man waiting desperately for a vacuum cleaner.”
“And he would laugh,” Mr. Miller wrote, “grateful for another happy tenant.”

He would later write, “This hotel does not belong to America. There are no vacuum cleaners, no rules, and no shame.”

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But the hotel’s unique culture was also self-nurturing. The sheer number of creatives all living in such close proximity allowed for a kind of cross-pollination of ideas. Robert Mapplethorpe, for example, was turned on to photography while a resident (he shared the hotel’s smallest apartment with Patti Smith) after one of their neighbours, artist Sandy Daley, lent him her Polaroid camera.

Bob Dylan, who lived in room 211 during the 1960s, was inspired by fellow Chelsea guest Dylan Thomas to change his surname from Zimmerman, or so the mythology has it. A Dylan tale that is certainly true is that in his 1976 song to his first wife, Sara Lownds, “Sara” he references the Chelsea with the lyric: “Staying up for days in the Chelsea Hotel/ writing ‘ Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands’ for you.”

Bard was extremely tolerant of the burgeoning drug culture in the hotel. He was especially accommodating with the Beat poets and their coterie, “I knew Timothy Leary, Allen ­[Ginsberg] and that whole beat generation,” Bard once said. “I thought that each person had their own right to do what they wanted as long as it wasn’t destructive to the hotel”.

William Burroughs was one of that group of beat poets which also included Jack Kerouac who took up residence in the hotel in the late 50s and, as mentioned above, much of Burroughs’ novel, Naked Lunch, was written there.

There are numerous other Chelsea anecdotes, from Gore Vidal famously sleeping with Kerouac to the fact that several survivors of the Titanic stayed at the hotel (which is a short distance from Pier 54) Or The painter Alphaeus Philemon Cole living there for 35 years until his death in 1988, aged 112 (he was to that point, the oldest verified man alive) but I guess it’s fitting to close on the incident that first made me aware of the Chelsea.

This was the hotel’s most notorious scandal – Nancy Spungen’s death was arguably the lowest point in the Chelsea’s chequered history. Her drug-fueled trip with nominal Sex Pistol, Sid Vicious, came to its inevitable, pathetic end in November 1978 when her body was found in their filthy bed in room 100; a solitary stab wound had pierced her abdomen. The knife was Sid’s and he was duly arrested for the killing but never made it to trial; dying just four months later from a heroin overdose.

Though it was this rather dark and tragic event that was my introduction to the Chelsea, My fascination for the legendary position it holds within the American, and indeed global, counter-culture and Avantgarde made me want to seek it out when I eventually had the opportunity to visit NYC.

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Unfortunately, it took another four visits for me to finally get there, only to discover that it was under renovation (and in fact still is at time of writing). Though I could not enter, It was still a real thrill to stand and look up at that famous and familiar facade, imagining all those who had imbued the very walls with their unique otherness.

I’ve revisited several times since and am always struck by the building’s strange, stately grandeur and ceaseless sense of mystery and promise.

 

 

Words and images are my own.

 

©2018

 

 

 

 

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The kick inside

 

 

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Freddie Mercury 1974. (Picture: Queen Archive/Virgin)

 

 

This morning, as I settled down to my work, I took a moment to check out a few of my favourite blogs. I find it a good way to centre myself before getting on with my own flimsy attempts at being creative.

Over at Yeah, Another Blogger I came across this little gem from fellow ruminator, Neil. In case you’re too lazy to click on the link, it describes an almost encounter he had with the great John Lennon on the streets of New York in 1973. It’s well worth a read so why not pop over now and give it some love. I’ll wait.

See, told you it was worth it. Reading of Neils regret at not having had the presence of mind to approach his hero when the opportunity presented itself, got me thinking, “yes, but there’s the flipside to that situation as well”.

You see, I too once came unexpectedly across a personal hero and I did engage him. And the result was, well let’s just say, disappointing.

About two years after John Lennon was murdered (an event which had caused me a considerable amount of trauma), I relocated from Australia to Britain. I’ve written about the incident that followed my arrival before, in a piece about synchronicities. In that piece I wrote:

When I was nineteen, I decided to relocate from Australia to the UK. By this time my relationship with said girlfriend had pretty much petered out but we were still on reasonably friendly terms. On the day before I flew out, I went around to her place to say my goodbyes and the last thing she said as we parted was, “if you see any members of Queen over there, make sure you get their autographs.”

I probably smirked as I agreed to do so. I mean, what were the odds I’d bump into any mega famous rock stars in the circles I’d be moving in? Anyway, after a long flight that had me questioning the wisdom of my decision to emigrate, I duly arrived at Heathrow, passed through the wall of bastards (otherwise known as customs and immigration) and made my way to the baggage carousel. I’d been in the country maybe forty minutes at this point.

So there I am, bleary-eyed and travel grimed, swaying on my feet with exhaustion when I happen to look to my right at the guy standing beside me.

It probably took me a full twenty seconds to process the visual information my brain was receiving from my tired eyes urgently telling it that the ‘guy’ was, in fact, Freddie Mercury.

I. Shit. You. Not.

I was stunned into near immobility but, with my girlfriend’s parting request still ringing in my ears, I realised I was just going to have to approach the clearly leery rock god in question.

I’m not proud of how the next thirty seconds went. I turned to face Mr. Mercury (who visibly flinched at what he obviously knew was coming) and spoke the immortal words, “if I had a pen (I didn’t by the way) would you give me an autograph?”

Now there are as yet undiscovered tribes in the deepest Amazon who knew what was coming next and I guess I did too. Barely meeting my gaze, Freddie uttered a one-word response and returned his attention to the circling baggage. The word was “no” in case you were having trouble discerning the inference.

I later read that it was Mercury’s policy never to give autographs. Ah well, I tried.

You may have noticed I kind of shoved the fandom element off onto my girlfriend there but, truth is, I was a huge fan of Mercury myself. I was actually carrying a tote bag that I’d meticulously drawn the inner sleeve pic of the Queen II album onto when I approached him. That probably made it look – to him – like I was a crazy fan (true) who’d known all along that he would be there (not true).

I get how that might freak a big star out so soon after what had happened to Lennon.

Anyway, the point of rehashing all this is that, though Neil may regret not talking to Lennon, I kind of regret that I did talk to Freddie. Even though I can fully appreciate famous people not wanting their space invaded in places like airports, I was nevertheless stung by that rejection. It didn’t change the way the young me felt about his music but it did change the way I saw Freddie.

In my eyes, he instantly became more cold and aloof than I’d previously thought him. I know it’s pretty ridiculous the way we as fans believe we somehow know these stars we’ve never met. How could we know the first thing about who they really are outside the arena of fame?

However, the personalities we imbue our heroes with are nonetheless important. As I think I’ve said before, Rock ‘n’ Roll is the modern mythology.

The archetypes that once inhabited the tales of ancient cultures live on in these larger than life Rock Gods we worship so devoutly. These giants stride the stages of our aspirations and give us something wonderful to love – or hate – which exists outside of the grey mundanity of modern life.

That had been the role that Mercury (even the name is mythological) had played in my teen life. In my suburban world of jean-clad yobs, Freddie – like Bowie – had blasted across my sky; some androgenous messenger from Olympus bringing the spark of redemption and hope to every willing, yearning heart.

If that last bit sounds somewhat over-egged, it’s also accurate. That’s  exactly how I’d felt growing up in my suburban wasteland. And it was the likes of Freddie, Bowie, and Kate Bush who kept the promise (and probably me) alive.

So, that rejection from one of my big heroes shattered more than just my preconceptions, it put quite a crack in my mythos as well. They do say you should never meet your heroes. Maybe, in this case at least, they’re right.

That said, I really envy Neil’s close encounter with one of the absolute gods of my world.

 

 

 

©2017

Seven

 

Seven decades and seven albums from the great state of New Jersey

I haven’t done one of these for quite a while but, since the idea behind it is pretty self-explanatory, I’m just going to jump right on in.

 

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  1. In the Wee Small Hours, Frank Sinatra (1955)

In the Wee, Small Hours was a concept album conceived before that phrase had even been coined. A densely woven web of melancholy, each song on this disc wanders through the past midnight streets of heartbreak and loneliness.

People forget how much musical perspicacity Sinatra had in those days but a listen to these tracks is a fast reminder. Songs like Can’t we be friends?, When your lover has gone, and It never entered my mind are bleedingly raw testaments to loss and regret.

The boy from Hoboken NJ was never everyone’s cup of tea but he dominated the era of the crooner with few rivals and gave us his own unique interpretation of the American songbook.

Alternatively, try: Sarah Vaughan With Clifford Brown (1955)

 

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  1. Speak No Evil, Wayne Shorter (1966)

The saxophonist from Newark NJ who famously played in Miles Davis Quintet (2) and then went on to form seminal band Weather Report would come to be regarded as one of the great jazz composers. This talent was never more apparent than on his classic modal jazz recording, Speak No Evil.

Featuring the keyboard talent of none other than Herbie Hancock, this highly inventive set of arrangements coalesce into one of the all-time great Jazz albums. The tracks, Witch Hunt, Infant eyes, and Wild Flower are standouts for me but the entire album hums with a freshness that has failed to dim in the intervening decades.

Alternatively, try: Here Where There Is Love, Dionne Warwick (1967)

 

 

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  1. Darkness on the Edge of Town, Springsteen, (1978)

I know, you probably think that if I’m making a Springsteen album my 70’s selection, it should be Born to Run but sorry, can’t do that. His fourth album is and will always be my favourite Springsteen recording of all time.

Darkness is, well, dark and deeply compelling. Despite the fact that BTR contains my two favourite ever Springsteen tracks (Backstreets and Thunder Road), this album is the perfect sequencing of raw-edged songs of no redemption. Adam raised a Cain, Darkness on the edge of town, Racing in the streets, and Promised land are relentless in their portrayal of the anti-hero’s incremental slide towards the oblivion of mediocrity.

The NME called it 1978’s album of the year and were right to do so. This album has more punk attitude than any three actual punk albums I can think of.

Alternatively, try: Easter, Patti Smith (1978)

 

 

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4. Especially For You, The Smithereens (1986)

The boys from Carteret, NJ kind of crept out into the limelight in the early 80’s, never really achieving the level of fame they probably deserved. The Smithereens were seen largely as a retro outfit obsessed with the Mods and ‘60s melody bands like The Byrds.

The inclusion of their track Blood and Roses on the Dangerously Close soundtrack gained them some MTV airtime but their sound never really caught the public’s imagination enough to take them to the next level.

This, their first album, was a high-water mark for the band and a very fine album it is. Pat DiNizio’s writing betrays some fairly dark feelings about love but those guitar arrangements keep things from tipping too far towards the dark side. Standout tracks include Blood and Roses, Behind the Wall of Sleep, and the excellent Strangers when we meet.

Alternatively, try: Trash it Up, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Dukes (1983)

 

 

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  1. The Score, Fugees (1996)

Comprising two Haitian refugees (hence the name ‘Fugees’) and one Jersey girl, the Fugees were a band to be reckoned with.  Wyclef Jean, Lauryn Hill, and Pras Michel exploded out of East Orange NJ, with their second album The Score. This was urban life in Jersey laid bare. Songs like, Ready or not, and Family business sit almost uncomfortably beside covers of Killing me softly and No woman no cry, creating a tension laced with moments of pure beauty.

Alternatively, try: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Lauryn Hill (1998)

 

 

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  1. The Meadowlands, The Wrens (2003)

Hailing from Secaucus, NJ, The Wrens were one of the anointed bands of the 90’s Indie scene. Singer/guitarist Charles Bissell along with brothers Greg and Kevin Whelan (guitar and bass respectively) and drummer Jerry MacDonald formed The Wrens at the beginning of the 90’s but this album was released at the very end of their partnership.

It could be argued they were a band of a certain time but this recording still sounds pretty relevant to me. Take a listen to She sends kisses and I think you’ll see what I mean.

Other great tracks include, Happy, and Boys you won’t.

Alternatively, try: Neptune City, Nicole Atkins (2007)

 

 

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  1. Atlas, Real Estate (2014)

Ridgewood, NJ was the launching pad for melodic guitar band, Real Estate. One could argue that they sound altogether too similar to Britpop darlings The Stone Roses and be fairly on the money. Their lead singer Martin Courtney sounds so much like Mancurian singer Ian Brown that he comes close to parody. That said, the songs on this album are strong and the overall sound so listenable that it quickly gets under the skin.

I have no idea how a band from New Jersey ends up sounding like a Stone Roses cover band doing originals but by about halfway through this album, I stopped caring and just let the music carry me off.

Standout tracks include, Had to hear, Past Lives, and Crime.

Alternatively, try: Painkillers, Brian Fallon (2015)

 

I don’t own every record on this list but did listen to all of them while compiling it.

There were so many others I could have included. New Jersey has such a rich musical culture and history. I would be remiss if I failed to at least mention some of those not included, so here’s a brief list of significant NJ artists (old and new) worth seeking out; The Roches, Gaslight Anthem, Deal Casino, The Cold Seas, Titus Andronicus, Little Steven, The Shirelles, Parliament, Misfits, The Feelies, Paul Simon, The Sugarhill Gang, Queen Latifah, Count Basie, Thursday, My Chemical Romance, and Kool and the Gang.

 

 

 

 

©2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Underneath the sycamore

 

Now every time this girl I see
She tries to chain me to her tree

Marc Bolan, Visions Of Domino

 

Marc Bolan, the fey glamster who helmed T. Rex, is said to have predicted, through several of his song lyrics, the year and manner of his own death. I know that the Rock world is somewhat rife with such tales, usually the inventions of hardcore fans and their overactive imaginations. However, there are actually some fairly interesting coincidences in this case and so I thought I’d while away a bit of my afternoon (and perhaps yours) having a wee look into it.

First of all, Bolan was on record as believing he’d never make it to 30. He was quite correct in this belief as he died some weeks shy of his 30th Birthday. He never got his driver’s license, having had strong premonitions he would die early, and claimed he “felt a car might be involved”.

On his final tour of France, Bolan visited the Louvre where he encountered a painting by Rene Magritte called September 16.  It is said that he spent several hours just staring at that one piece.

 

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Image, the Louvre.

Interestingly enough, the painting shows the moon in the exact same phase as on the night Bolan died when the car, driven not by him but by his girlfriend Gloria Jones, hit a fence under a tree, on 16 September, 1977.

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The license plate of the mini they were in was FOX 661L and fans have pointed out that in the lyrics to the song, Solid Gold Easy Action he sings:

“life is the same as it always will be,

Easy as picking foxes from a tree.”

 

 

In another song, The Road I’m on he sings:

Since we last loved Gloria
the suns been up and down that many times
since we last loved Gloria
I’ve been sharing love with women of all kinds

Summer ends and leaves start dying
you won’t see robin crying
he knows where the sun is hiding
to another nest he’s flying

You gave me reason now I’ve gotta roam
‘cos the road I’m on gal won’t run me home

Hear my words Gloria
echoing from mountains with a cry
Hear my words Gloria
you’ll see them gal reflecting off the sky

Hear it in the cold wind blowing
hear it in the river’s flowing
no-one in the mind that’s growing
see ‘cos the cards that’s showing

You gave me reason now I’ve gotta roam
‘cos the road I’m on gal won’t run me home

 

That line, the road I’m on gal won’t take me home along with the repeated mention of the name Gloria and the late summer setting have stirred much discussion among Bolan’s fans. His girlfriend Gloria was indeed trying to drive him home when grisly fate intervened.

Bolan had also written a poem about death called The Warlock of Love with the first line, sycamore of sorrow.

The tree beneath which he died was a sycamore.

Sycamore of sorrow

Pray I’m swallowed

In the swell of your yelling leafy breast

My crippled bended chest is shamed

Through flaming crowsfeet, soaring nouns of Norse confession.

Dark earth gremlins, rootlegged hobbling

In the cryptess of my turned wound

Ill-famed fair prince, steal my lightening

Stake me with steel, for my haughtiness

Straddle my storm head with your abyss shroud

Call me harlot, call me wormy wordler

Ever so, but out loud.

 

It’s worth reiterating that (according to one biographer*) Bolan did not die from hitting the actual tree as is popularly believed but rather when the car hit a steel-reinforced fence post in front of it. Bolan was impaled through the back of his head by a piece of iron which gives a couple of other lines in the poem a certain macabre relevance.

Stake me with steel, for my haughtiness

Straddle my storm head with your abyss shroud

 

Finally (and this one is not as compelling to me but I’ll include it for the sake of being thorough) in the song, Celebrate Summer Bolan sings Summer is Heaven in ’77 which was, obviously the year and season of his death (as I said, not particularly compelling, that one).

 

 

* In Ride a White Swan: The Lives and Death of Marc Bolan written by Lesley-Ann Jones.

 

©2017

Love is a battlefield

 

1983 was a strange and unsettling year in my life. I was 20, living in Canberra (the capital of Australia, where I’d grown up), and working in my first adult job as a visual merchandising manager in an upscale department store. I’d not long before returned from the UK and I was feeling rudderless, to say the least.

I was also putting myself back together after the implosion of my first serious relationship. I was pretty much a basket case in 1983.

One of the things that kept me at least partly grounded was music. I wouldn’t say my musical tastes were particularly refined at that time but I was passionate about the music I liked and was an avid watcher of MTV and the like.

For at least a period of that year, one song and video dominated the airwaves. Pat Benatar’s, Love is a Battlefield seemed to be playing every time you turned on the TV, switched on the radio, or walked out your door. It wasn’t quite my sort of thing but the title and theme of the track resonated with my still broken heart and so I paid it more attention than I might have ordinarily.

I remember being struck by the way the video interrupted the song with dialogue (something that had never been done before). The angry father yelling after his fleeing daughter, “if you leave this house now, you can just forget about coming back,” may have been a tad corny but it stuck in the head and came to define the song. So much so that, listening to the actual track on the radio sans the dialogue, felt – odd.

As I said, the song itself wasn’t quite my cup of tea but it got lodged and in some weird way came to represent that very unsettling time for me. In all the years since, whenever I’ve heard that track played, my ears prick up and a strange flood of conflicting emotions resurface.

Now, here I am living in New Jersey. Canberra is a long way away and 1983 a long time ago. Both time and place could not be more different to my current life and circumstances.

I’ve witten several times on this blog about Clinton, a small town I love one over from my new home. It’s a gorgeous place with a very American every-town feel.

That’s probably why, in 1983, Pat Benatar traveled there to film those crucial domestic scenes for her video.

Imagine my surprise when I saw a small piece in our local press where people were reminiscing about the day Ms Benatar filmed Love is a Battlefield in their little town. Really? Of course, I needed to check this out for myself.

 

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So, yesterday, Jersey girl and I went over to Clinton and wandered around a part of the town we’d thus far neglected. It was as picturesque as most of the rest of the place and it didn’t take us long to identify the house from the video.

I have no idea how it was selected but this house was chosen to be the family home from which Benatar’s rebellious character flees (an amusing scenario considering she was 30 years old at the time of shooting*). It has changed very little in the succeeding 34 years.

 

 

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The house today.

 

 

 

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Image: Chrysalis Records

 

 

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Image: Chrysalis Records

 

It was a very strange feeling looking on from the street – almost like stepping into the video. I half expected to see Benatar standing by the tree waving up at her kid brother in the window (the tree’s still there but no Benatar).

It was also a little like stepping into my own past. Those mixed emotions began to reemerge as soon as I caught sight of the house and grew as it drew closer. It’s amazing how music and its associated symbols can tap into those strong emotions and pull us backwards through time.

I never could have imagined, all those years ago, that I’d one day be living just a few miles from such an iconic locale.

 

 

*Equally amusing, the song and video were used in the movie 13 going on 30 – you can’t make this stuff up.

I wanna be where the bands are

 

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“Before we play a little bit, I’d like to say a few things about why we’re down here tonight. Mainly I’d like to say that I think that the marriage between a community and a company is a special thing, it involves a special trust and even 400 jobs is a lot of work lost in a small town.

“What do you do when after 10 years or 20 years, you wake up in the morning and you see your livelihood sailing away from you, leaving you standing on the beach? What happens when the jobs go away and the people remain? I’d like to say what goes unmeasured is the price that unemployment inflicts on people’s families, on their marriages, on the single mothers out there trying to raise their kids on their own.

“Now, the 3M company, it’s their money and it’s their plant but it’s the 3M workers’ jobs. I’m here tonight to just say that I think that after 25 years of service from a community that there’s a debt owed to the 3M workers and to my hometown.”

Bruce Springsteen at the Stone Pony; 19 January, 1986. performing a benefit gig for workers from the Freehold 3M plant that was about to be permanently closed down.

 

The Stone Pony in Asbury Park is generally acknowledged to be one of the most important live Rock venues of all time. It is often mentioned by music historians in the same breath as CBGB, Whiskey a Go Go, and the Cavern Club.

And for almost the entire of the club’s forty three year history, it has been closely associated with one rock icon in particular. Bruce Springsteen’s relationship with the Pony is legendary. Following the closure of the Upstage club when he was still living in and around Asbury Park, through all the years of touring, Springsteen has been a fairly regular fixture at the club.

It has been estimated that the Boss has played the Pony stage some 100 times and, with the exception of private gigs to fundraise for his children’s various schools, has never once been billed there.

His first ever Pony performance was on Sept. 8, ’74. Springsteen was jamming with an outfit called The Blackberry Booze Band featuring none other than Steve Van Zandt and Southside Johnny Lyon. Blackberry would go on to become the Asbury Dukes.

 

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Bruce and Stevie, the early days. Picture lifted from the Stone Pony website.

Springsteen’s star was already in ascendance when the Pony opened its doors in 1973 but, even after he had gained considerable fame and recognition with his breakout album, Born to Run, he could still be found hanging around the Pony, occasionally even jumping the bar and serving drinks to customers (by all accounts he sucked pretty hard as a barkeep).

Almost all of his public appearances at the pony have been jams with other artists. These have included: Blackberry Booze Band, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, Clarence Clemons, The Shakes, The Band’s Levon Helm, Joe Grushecky, Soozie Tyrell, Lord Gunner Group, Marshall Crenshaw, Little Steven, Bobby Bandiera, Nils Lofgren, and Jimmy Cliff.

 

 

The relationship has not always been harmonious, however. There was a period from October ’77 until May ’82 where Springsteen shifted his allegiance from the Pony to the Asbury Lanes across town. This reputedly had something to do with fellow E Streeter, Danny Federici getting tossed out of the Pony one night for general rowdiness which apparently did not go over too well with Springsteen.

By May ’82, all was presumably forgiven as Bruce took to the Pony’s stage again with a vengeance, playing 14 Sunday night jams with house band, Cats on a Smooth Surface.

 

 

On June 8, ’84 The E Street Band launched their mega, Born In The USA tour with a warm-up gig at, you guessed it, The Stone Pony. Twelve songs were played that night, including the live debuts of Born in the U.S.A., Glory Days, My Hometown, and Darlington County.

The Pony has not only served as a handy place for Bruce to play, it was for many years a safe haven, one of the few places he could relax among the public without the fear of constant harassment from eager fans. It is an unwritten law around the Pony that you don’t get up in Springsteen’s face. That’s a rare kind of respect.

The Pony also happens to be the place where, back in the early 80’s, Bruce met his now wife and fellow band mate, Patti Scialfa.

 

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The Stone Pony

 

 

Words and images (except where otherwise stated) are my own.

 

©2017

 

 

New York, New York

 

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Two gigs in NYC

This week I had the great pleasure of seeing two remarkable performances in New York. They were about as different from one another as can be but were nonetheless both amazing in their own ways.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds at the Beacon Theatre, NYC, 6/13

On Tuesday evening my wife and I drove into the city for a show we’d bought tickets for nearly a year before (while I was still stuck in Melbourne). Jersey girl is a huge Nick Cave fan. It’s safe to say Cave is to my wife what Springsteen is to me. It’s funny that I’m from Melbourne and idolise a rockstar from Jersey while she’s from Jersey and adores a rockstar from Melbourne (clearly this marriage was meant to be).

Nick Cave and his Bad Seeds were playing a sold out show at the vaunted Beacon Theatre on Broadway, an event too perfect to miss. For some reason, despite being a long time fan of his music, I’ve never seen Cave play live. The closest I ever came was attending a reading he gave when he released his first novel When the Ass saw the Angel.

It was therefore a pretty special event for me to be seeing him in NYC. After a fun meal at a crazy Mexican restaurant called Playa Betty’s on Amsterdam Avenue, we headed to the theatre and found our seats. Jersey had done us proud and we were in the orchestra section with a great view.

It’s an impressive theatre and seemed like a pretty perfect backdrop for what was to come.

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From the moment Cave took the stage, we knew this was not going to be your average theatre gig. The entire audience left their seats the moment they caught sight of him and rushed forward to the stage. It was literally stand up or see nothing and so all pretence of decorum was abandoned.

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We had assumed that the main focus of the show would be his most recent album, Skeleton Tree which deals largely with the emmotions revolving around the death of his teenage son in a horrible cliff fall. It’s a very atmospheric album which lends itself to quiet contemplation and self examination. In that context the seated theatre venue had seemed quite apropriate but that wasn’t the gig we got.

Cave interspersed songs from Skeleton tree throughout the night but they served as the moments of quiet between  raging storms. To everyone’s delight he pulled out songs from every period of his long career with the Seeds.

We were treated to stunning renditions of songs such as Red Right Hand, Tupelo, Mercy Seat, and Stagger Lee. And all the while cave strode the stage like a demented southern preacher crossed with a daddy long legs spider. The man is no spring chicken but his energy remains remarkably vital and there is still no compromise in him.

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At one point he dragged a young guy up onto the stage and sang directly into his face. When he was done with this intense little piece of theatre, he simply walked away leaving the fella unsure as to what he should do; leave the stage or stay up there with the band? He shrugged in Cave’s direction and was told, “Do what you like”. Ten minutes later, there were thirty people up on the stage and that’s how the rest of the night went.

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The audience having taken the stage, at one point Cave took to the floor and we beheld the humourous sight of people up on the stage taking pictures with their iphones of their idol down in the audience.

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When it was all over, we left the gig in a state of semi-shock. The room had reached a near religious fervour over the course of the show. Cave is an arch manipulator and he had quickly recruited the willing New York fans to his church of soaring sounds.

It was, we both agreed, a show to match anything we’d seen.

 

Spike Wilner, Melissa Aldana, and Paul Gill, Mezzrow, Greenwich Village, 6/16

On Friday night, I travelled back into the city to meet up with my son and my good friend P from Melbourne. Both of them had come all the way from Australia to attend our wedding and, as P was flying out the next day, we decided to have an Aussie boys night out together in the greatest city on Earth.

The theme of the night was to be jazz. We had heard, from a musician friend of my son’s, about a club that has a great rep, Smalls Jazz Club in the Village and so we headed over hoping to get in (we hadn’t thought to book ahead). As it turned out, the set was sold out but we were told by the door guy that they had another club the other side of 7th Ave.

We made our way over and found the place, Mezzrow which was situated in the basement of an unassuming brownstone on W10th Street. We got in without having to wait and were led through to a table The place was tiny and we could hear the subway trains rumbling by beneath us every five minutes or so (you’d think that would have detracted from the music but, weirdly, it had the opposite effect).

Mezzrow is owned and operated by jazz pianist Spike Wilner and he was the man tinkling the ivories that evening. It was also his birthday so he had selected two very special guests to play with him. Melissa Aldana is a Chilean born saxophonist who can play like an angel struggling with its demons. And on double bass was Paul Gill.

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This tight little trio proceeded to blow our minds with a set of amazing renditions of classic jazz standards and some original composition. All three musicians were exremely tallented players and I was keenly aware that to have seen jazz of this quality in Melbourne it would have been a very pricey ticket indeed (we paid just $25 dollars).

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The audience showed their appreciation of the music on offer in that uniquely jazz audience way.

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And the icing on the cake was that our Mezzrow tickets gave us entry into Smalls, so we wandered over after the gig and caught the end of a set there. I’m not sure who we saw there but it was equally enjoyable (though the room was uncomfortably packed and very hot).

By the time we got back to our digs in Brooklyn it was about 2am and we were exhausted (I’d been going since early the previous morning) but we’d heard some amazing jazz and were basking in the glow of it all.

So there you have it, two very different, very excellent gigs in one week. Who knows when that opportunity might come along again?

 

 

Words and images are my own.

©2017