New York is Dead, Long Live the New York scene

I guess saying that it all started with Johnny Thunders wouldn’t be far from the truth…

Back a while ago I had come across a pair of Johnny’s ballet slippers he used to wear on stage and that were put up for sale by the estate of a Thunders’ fan who had passed away. As only proof of their authenticity was a handwritten letter addressed to their owner from the person he had gotten them from, and whose signature only read “Simon”.

I wasn’t so much interested in the slippers themselves but I’ve always liked a good story, and to me it sounded like this could turn out to be one. It wasn’t long before I realized that “Simon” was actually Simon Ritt of the Daughters, a band that had shared the stage with the Heartbreakers on many occasions. It could have all stopped there with the satisfaction that I had figured it all out, but having been reminded of the Daughters, I began wondering what might have happened to them. I managed to contact Simon who confirmed that the slippers had been left in his apartment where Johnny had stayed, and that he passed them on to a friend who was a fan of Johnny. He had not been in touch with him for a while, and found out about his death when the slippers resurfaced. I exchanged a few emails with Simon, asking about his new band, and he promised to let me know next time he’d be playing in New York.

Thinking about the Daughters, some ideas started burgeoning in my head…the next step was to figure out what had happened to their singer/guitarist, Joe Mazzari. It turned out that Joe was also still very active as a musician. After the release of their one and only EP, they had broken up, but Joe had went on recording on a couple Studio albums by Thunders, and with his own band the Two Saints, all throughout the 80s, later joining Pussy Crush for an album, and then continuing solo, still performing with the Daughters’ bassist Bill Doherty. Soon enough, I had Joe’s latest album in my hands, or should I say in my record player. It was one of the best albums I had heard in a while, and the fact that Joe was one of those forgotten heroes of the scene certainly did add a special something to it. I’ve always rooted for the underdogs.

Having been working as a freelance A&R, signing artists to independent Euro labels Nicotine Records, and Tornado Ride Records, I decided I would do my very best to see Joe get a little piece of the recognition he deserved. Then I realized that the Daughters had recorded a full length album, produced by Jimmy Miller (Rolling Stones/Motorhead/etc.) which had never been released due to the breaking up of the band. Johnny Thunder’s slippers had walked me all the way to something that could turn out to be a great project. Joe and I talked, brainstorming the idea. One way or another we would get the album out, with a booklet featuring photographs and telling the story behind the band. It was a few months that we had started working on the project when we heard that our common friend Walter Lure (Heartbreakers) was about to celebrate the 30th anniversary of his solo band the Waldos. Joe decided he would make the trip from Boston, and inquired if it would be possible for him to play that same weekend while he was in town.

I had an experience in organizing shows, but had not done anything major since my 30th birthday, 3 years earlier when -out of frustration because NY was agonizing- I figured I should put together a special night to celebrate the NY scene we loved and missed with the best bands the city had to offer, turning 30 being just an excuse to make it happen. It was on a cold winter night at Don Hill’s, and I wondered if people would show up. They did. More than 200 people came to the event which I had advertised as Thomaxe’s Escape From NY, after the column I had been writing for years in a local punk paper. The all-star lineup consisted of NY Junk, Martinets, Bullies, Electric Frankenstein, Waldos, and Cheetah Chrome & the Blackhearts. The show was a huge success, and as a statement against the bookers in NYC, who have been contributing to the slow death of rock music by not paying bands, I did not take one dime for myself.

Back to present days, when Joe told me that his friend Kipp could book us a full Friday night, I was busy but figured maybe it was time to do it again. Joe could reunite the Two Saints and come down from Boston, and I’d get the best bands in NYC to come have a special night in the very spirit of how it used to be before it all went to shit…maybe it was worth it…

As a matter of fact, things were not going better in NYC, with rent getting higher and higher, rock joints closing, and of course with bookers taking all the door money for themselves and giving a slot to just anyone willing to ‘pay to play’ regardless of their sound and/or talent. I was getting sick of giving 10 bucks to see a band and witness my hard-earned money going straight into the pocket of a guy who had basically done nothing at all. I wanted my money to go to artists, I wanted clubs to book good bands, I did not want to hear any of that “but do they draw?” kind of crap. I did not want good bands to have to open early for stupid DJ dance parties.

Since then I had played NYC too, with Ramones songwriter and ex-Marky Ramone & the Intruders frontman, Skinny Bones. I knew the deal even better than ever before, because I had lived it as a fan, as a booker, and as a musician. I was in full knowledge of what was going on and did not like it one bit.

Shortly before the set date for our potential show, Lakeside Lounge was the next place to close, meanwhile local bookers kept paying their rent with someone else’s money, not respecting artists, not respecting the scene that made them live, and only caring for quick profit rather than quality shows.

I’d still get sick every time I’d walk by where CBGB’s used to stand to see John Varvatos’s store, selling $200 lame rock shirts, and asking $450 for a pair of skull cuff links that would certainly instantly make you ‘cool’ and/or go bankrupt unless you had the money to buy yourself an image. It all goes really well with the bums sleeping on the floor by the mission next door. Trying to cater to the ‘punk’ scene by having free afternoon shows where wine is served…really?! Maybe Varvatos forgot that the Ramones wore $5 keds, and that the Dolls bought everything at thrift shops. I still feel bad when I see kids from all over coming to see the last wall standing of CB’s and getting ripped off by corporate assholes. Don’t be fooled, this ain’t CB’s, and it isn’t rock’n roll either…

Manhattan, including the Lower East Side, had become a zoo for the wealthy, losing great venues was already bad enough, seeing artists being blatantly disrespected by the very ones they helped make a living was even worse, but this was just adding to the insult.

So, I said “screw this”, I knew things were fucked and that one show wouldn’t change that, but I figured I’d show them how it’s done. At least I’d get to see a great gig, and bands would be playing to a packed club as they always should- and would, if only things were done the right way.

“Who are you here to see?”, that’s what the door guys will ask you at any show, and they’ll put a little mark next to the band you came to see, right? Now, do you know that in most cases in NYC a band will need to have 10 to 20 marks next to their name before they get one cent? So basically, if the show is 10 bucks, the booker will generally take the first $100 to $200 that was made thanks to that band. And they’ll do that with every band that plays that night. Let’s say they book 8 bands (which involves one or two bands playing so late that barely anyone will stick around): you do the math. Easy enough for a scam uh? Easy money, no risk, and artists don’t have a choice, and the vicious circle keeps on rolling.

How much does it cost bookers? Well, these people usually don’t promote anyway, because either way they’ll make money, they know that bands will have to promote if they want a shot at making maybe $50 (that can then be split between four members who end up feeling not as special as they should). At best booking guys will print a poster and send an invitation online, just to say they did something. Then you have to pay the person doing the door, and whoever does the PA (and most PAs suck in these clubs anyway), well…how much can that be?! Couldn’t that be largely covered by the drinks sold all night?

Think about it: if a bar has nothing going on, they will not make money. No good band playing results in having no customer at the bar, and no one orders drinks. But if you have a solid lineup and make people pay less at the door, they’ll come. Give all the money to the bands. They’ll play a great show, people will stay to see them all, and they’ll be drinking all night.

So there we were, Uncle Mike’s was the place that Kipp could get us and I was immediately informed that it was a dive bar in the financial district, completely out of the beaten path. Pretty much no one would walk by and just walk in, I was told. But people don’t do that anyway. Get me any place, I don’t care where, with a good lineup you can pack it.

Now how does one get a good lineup? Sure if for years you’ve been treating artists with no respect and mainly using them to make some money, they won’t trust you. There are basically two types of bookers in NYC: 1) the asshole type, who never claims to be anything than what you both know he/she is, 2) the friendly one, who will rip you off with a smile, over and over again.

It happens that I never made/expected/asked for/taken one dime from anyone. I’m as broke as it gets, but I have integrity. I’ll still pay to go support a band rather than ask to be on the guest list. So a great lineup is what I got, the best of the best, and no ego trips, because when you respect people, they respect you back. Did I work a lot to make this happen? Yes. Was it stressful? It always is. However, when I walked in Uncle Mike’s that night -this place I had been told was usually empty- and saw the bar already packed for the first band, I knew why I had done it all along…for the same reasons we were all there…the right reasons.

Fronted by Angie Lesdema, Sunday Masquerade was the first band to hit the stage. I remember being front row at one of their shows a little while back and right next to me was famed r’n’r photographer/manager Leee Black Childers who was ecstatic, describing their music as “the perfect rock’n roll songs”. When I asked them if they’d open the night, they did not hesitate. Sunday Masquerade has played some big shows around the city, but they are not one of these bands who are ‘too cool’ to play early. Promoting the show, I did not say in which order the bands would appear but stated that every band playing that night was a headliner. If you are great, people will come see you, no matter what time you are on. Sunday Masquerade proved me right.

Next were the Martinets –surely one of the greatest live bands in the world- who had already blessed me with their presence at my first Escape From NY party. The Martinets latest record, Comeback Tour, was recently released on Tornado Ride Record and is certainly one of the most exciting Rock albums I have heard in years. In the audience to see them were amongst others Binky and Des of the legendary Planets. The Martinets won everyone over as they always do with their raw energy, and some of the catchiest/coolest songs you’ll ever get to hear. True originals inside and out. Get their album from Tornado Ride Records, it is a must have!!!

Damn Kids hit the stage and kicked some ass as they always do. More known for the fact that they feature Paul Kostabi (White Zombie/Youth Gone Mad/etc) on guitar, the band is composed of a bunch of misfits just as talented, Al Landess on vocals and guitar; Dave Lindsay on drums; and Ned Lindsay on bass. They don’t have an album at this time, just few recordings available on the internet for download, but theses guys must be seen live anyway to fully appreciate what they are all about. A real NYC band. Let’s hope a full length record is on its way.

Furious George was next, and them being one of my all-time favorite bands, it certainly was a treat. Furious George only plays once a year due to George health (he’s gotten sick from the aftermath of 9/11, and fighting for the truth ever since). I had tried to have them play at the Arthur Kane tribute in 2005, then at my Escape party in 2009, but as they say “third time the charm”. Seeing Furious George play a full set (which they haven’t done in a very long time) was amazing for all of us, and I’ll go as far as saying that it was a dream come true, only better. Of course they’ll tell you that the PA sucked and that the sound wasn’t the best, but from the audience’s point of view: Furious George RULED. The beast was unleashed, raw and at its best. Thank you guys, now I can die a happy man.

Two Saints who had travelled from Boston the day before were in the audience the whole night supporting the other bands the way it should always be. I knew they wouldn’t disappoint, and they certainly did not. Not only did they rock the club, but one could tell they really were having a good time and that it was also a special night to them. It was good to witness this underground legend back on stage! They are already planning more shows and are looking into touring overseas. Something tells me it won’t be long before they hit the studio for a long awaited brand new album. In the meantime, I’d highly suggest to track down their old LPs and 7 inches, great stuff. Also make sure to get anything by Joe Mazzari, not only does he appear on a few Johnny Thunders studio records, and on the Two Saints material, but he’s also got a bunch of records under different names.

Last but not least was High Teen Boogie, an all American Japanese female punk/rock trio and also certainly one of the most exciting bands I have ever seen live (and trust me I have seen a lot). High Teen Boogie has the pure raw energy of the Ramones in their early days, so it is no wonder why Joey Ramone used to attend their shows when the girls first started out. High Teen Boogie is another of these bands than one must see live, the girls storm the stage and take no prisoner: it’s like standing right in front of a jet plane’s engine as it takes off. High Teen Boogie is Nonlee on Bass, Hitomi on Drums and Yuki on Guitar, these girls sound great, look great, and are totally sexy. If there was any justice in the r’n’r world they would have been signed to a major label already, but HTB has the DIY spirit deep in their blood, which makes them even cooler. I’m pretty much in love with them and they have their spot in my list of all time favorite bands. Do yourself a favor and go see them any chance you get. Don’t forget to also shoot them an email and get yourself a copy of their two self-released CDs, you won’t regret it!

In the end you’ll tell me that it was just a show, but after reading this piece you might realize that it was much more than that.

A couple weeks before they closed Lakeside Lounge I had met Joe Belock there. Joe is the host of WFMU’s famous “Three Chords Monte”. It turned out that Joe had attended my first Escape party 3 years earlier and remembered it vividly, saying that you never get that in NYC anymore: 7 great bands in a row, not one filler. I was really surprised that someone else’s than me would remember and that it would not just be a blur, blending with all of the other shows they had attended -especially coming from a well-known and respected radio host. Before I left, we shook hands and I told him that I was really glad he remembered it, to which he responded “I’ll always remember that show!”. As I walked back home that night, I knew we had made a small difference, and deep down inside I still want to believe that a small difference may lead to a greater one. I’ll never forget that show either, nor the one we had at Uncle Mike’s… and I guess, after all, I might not be the only one.

I also won’t forget that sometimes all it takes for things to happen is to make them happen, just like how it takes for some things to die is to let them die. They’ll close more clubs, they’ll rip off more artists, but it’s not hopeless. Maybe some kids will take over and start doing it again, the right way. The NY scene does not have to live by these rules. I said that if with the lineup we had at Uncle Mike’s people didn’t show up I’d officially declare NYC dead. I’m glad I didn’t have to do that. There is still a drive out there…as the Martinets sang: “rock n roll will probably never die”, it’s just really up to all of us to keep it alive. You can’t put your arms around a memory…so embrace what you’ve got, and if it is any special to you, then never let it go.

Special thanks to all the bands who played that night, all the fans who showed up, Joe for giving me an excuse to do it again, Pat for helping a great deal with the promo, Kipp for booking the club &, doing the stage, Uncle Mike’s for having us. And of course to all the outsiders who left us too early, but we will always remember.

Thomas ‘Thomaxe’ Goze

NYC, 2012

Photos by Bill DesJardins.

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