Showing posts with label NYC. Show all posts
Showing posts with label NYC. Show all posts

October 22, 2014

Chapter 6: Breaking Up With My Mom : Tales of a Female Music Enthusiast

The hunger for independence happens for most kids somewhere between 8 th grade and sophomore year of high school. It is within this window of time that moody teens decide they only want to be seen alone or with friends. Parents are plucked, no kicked from their social equation all together.

1987 was the year I broke up with my mom. Up to this point she had been nothing but an incredible trooper and friend. She was not only willing to take me to any show I asked to see, she was genuinely excited to see live bands with me – something that I can barely get my adult friends to do with me now. 

Together my mom and I saw:

* Prince – twice (Purple Rain & Parade tour)
* Howard Jones - twice
* UB40 w/ Erasure (to be accurate that took place in 1988 @ Pier 84 in NYC)
* Bryan Adams w/ The Hooters at Madison Square Garden, 1987
* They Might Be Giants – The Ritz , 1986 - (So many men tried to pick up my Mom that night, it was freaky)
* Adam and the Ants w/ Wall of Voodoo – 1985 at Radio City Music Hall (Rabid female fans threw bras and panties at the stage all all night long but especially during "Strip" )
* Squeeze opening for David Bowie on the Spiders from Mars tour in 1987 at Giant’s Stadium
Peter Gabriel - So tour in 1986 at Madison Square Garden
* And while not a band, there was Hands Across America along side 6 and half million other people

But then age 16 happened. Hormones took over and I went through the Jekyll and Hyde change. I transformed from a content sidekick of a parental unit to a brooding teenage turd who preferred to play orphan.
My mom could have handled the change in my attitude with screaming matches or groundings but instead she did something miraculous. She became a willing chauffeur to any and all shows I asked to see, 99% of which were 40 minutes away in New York City. To be clear, the city was not the tourist friendly Disneyland it is today; it was the seedy New York of the late ‘80s . These were the rough and tumble Ed Koch years of NY.

The whole scenario still blows my mind to this day. A handful of my friend’s parents (along with my own) willingly gave their daughters permission to attend a number of concerts in New York parent-free. Not even coolest of cool moms on Gilmore Girls (picture w/ the Bangles below) would have offered that level of privilege and freedom to her daughter. My friends and I were trusted to stay at the show (IE not leave the concert to wander the big, dangerous city alone), behave respectably, and then meet my mom at an arranged pick up location near the venue when the concert was done. We mostly followed the big alternative bands of the day so luckily these shows were held in respectable, large all ages venues that welcomed a gaggle of bridge and tunnel girls with an allowance to burn on expensive cups of soda and band merch.

The concert ritual began months before the actual big event. It all started glued to a telephone with a parent’s credit card; borrowed with permission. Pre- internet you could get concert tickets one of three ways: by calling the ticket agency handling the event, visiting the ticket agency booth (Ticketron/Teletron had a  window at a sporting goods store a few towns away – too much of a distance / time suck to a busy parent or sibling with a car), or the venue located a whole state away. I LOVED the competitive thrill of getting through on the phone (much like trying to be the 100 th caller on a radio station for a prize from Z100), so the phone was my preferred way to buy tickets. I would hope for it to ring after just a few tries but inevitably I would get a busy signal. And then another. And another. Methodically I would dial with the receiver pinned between my shoulder and cheek. With one hand poised over the keypad, I would hang up with the right hand and then re-dial with the left. I always called from my dad’s office. He had the least distracting to a teen room in the house and he ended up with the only phone in the house that had the modern and magical redial button. That was my secret weapon.

Sometimes this ticket buying process took hours - all depending on the size of the band and venue. If and when I managed to get through to a ticket agent, I then had to then scream for my parents who needed to be present just in case the other voice at the end of the telephone questioned my age and asked for a parent’s permission to charge the card. We only had one telephone line in the house so the rest of my poor family was barred from trying to use it until I got through - bless their patient hearts. The coveted tickets would then be mailed to our house and the wait for those tickets was unbearable. They were the tangible proof that we concert bound and on our way to greatness unlike anything we had ever experienced before. Freedom! New York City! Loud music! Flocks of interesting strangers!

In hindsight,  I think the hardest part of this whole process was learning about upcoming concerts in the first place. Collecting this valuable information was a difficult job and without a car or a computer, it took a lot of timely investigative work. I meticulously kept notes while listening to the radio each night. I depended on the word of mouth from friends (who also learned details from their older brother & sisters) . The final piece of the puzzle was scouring my parent’s multiple newspaper subscriptions that featured advertisements for upcoming concerts.

Once tickets were procured, the only really important thing left for me to do was pick something to wear. I had yet to discover thrift stores so most of the items I wore still came from the local Paramus Park Mall. I had transitioned away from preppy jock bookworm but the Bergen County malls still limited me to a sea of popped collars, shoulder pads, and the Miami Vice fallout of never wearing socks. Crazy neon colors had been all the rage with the mainstream culture so I responded by embracing the more Gothic color pallet of black, gray, and cream (super funny knowing how colorful my wardrobe is now). My concert uniform also would include at least one Swatch , a long skirt or pegged pants, bulky sweaters with an even larger shirt underneath it, and multiple silver/ turquoise rings. The bonus reward to going to these concerts was that the more band shirts I purchased at them, the more often I could show the world that not only I was an cool enough to be at this show, but that I had impeccable taste in music overall. I am not ashamed to admit that my band shirt obsession has not diminished since 1986.

We would ride to NYC in my mom’s white Chevy Celebrity listening to mix tapes or if the wind was blowing the right way, the alternative hits of Long Island’s WDRE (“Dare to be different!”). My mom must have had the patience of a saint. We were a carload of high energy girls bouncing around like ping pong balls in oversized cable knits about to be chaperone free at a concert. We had hormones multiplying by the minute. There was the intoxicating prospect of meeting cute boys but the reality was most high school kids were not allowed to go to concerts alone so the members of the opposite sex were all at least college age. That could have spelled after school special stranger danger disaster but the actual number of members of the opposite sex we flirted with at these shows were zero.

The concerts themselves were a blur. Literally. Like most teenage girls, we had trouble sitting still. These concerts were rarely spent in the original seat I had purchased (most of these shows had seating). The game was to hunt for open seats that didn’t look like anyone was showing up to fill. The goal was to find group seating that moved us just that much closer to the stage. We would wiggle and worm our way up towards the stage, often getting within the first 20 rows. The biggest decision of the night would be to risk losing the seat we had hijacked in the name of dancing. We wanted to dance in the isles, by no means common behavior of the adults around us but as painfully enthusiastic girls, it seemed very necessary. The opening acts at these concerts were more often than not unknown to us so we would use that hour to wander the halls, stairways, and theater lobbies (the most gorgeous being Radio City Music Hall’s ornate Art Deco d├ęcor. People watching up until this point was limited to our NJ suburban backyards so the alternative show going crowds of a New York City show was as good as it could possibly get. There were the classic new wavers, new-romantics in their pirate blouses, pale looking librarian types in oversized glasses, the impeccably dressed (think Bryan Ferry), and gay people who I had personally only seen once before in Provincetown, MA on a family vacation. The atmosphere was as important and as memorable as the bands themselves. Admittedly my friends and I were an anomaly to be stared back at. We were very young, spirited, and parentless. We were fish out of water suburban brats from one state away. We were also not welcomed by those sitting around us as we squealed and jumped like dolphins in heat, danced like third rate Go-Gos, talked loudly about the world we knew nothing of, and did all of the typical things sheltered teenage girls do. The echo of “Where are their parents?” still ring in my ears.

What amazes me all these years later, besides the deep trust our parents had in us, is that pre-cell phones there was no way of knowing what time a show would be over by. It was all planned and discussed on the car ride into the city. Mom would hang out in the city on her own (bookstores and coffee shops) and when it came time to pick us up, she kept circling in the car until we showed up. Typically our rendezvous point was across the street or on one of the side streets of the theater / venue.  She never seemed stressed or angry if any of the shows that ran a little late. I remember her talking about how she enjoyed the time to herself in a city she once called home after college in the mid ‘60s. These occasional trips gave her an opportunity to revisit her old stomping grounds as well. She was and remained a night owl through her life and was truly dedicated to offering us the unique opportunity to seek culture and art on our own terms.  
The rides back home usually went relatively quickly as the traffic out of the Lincoln Tunnel or George Washington Bridge was light after 10 pm. Inevitably one of my friends would fall asleep but it was my job to keep my mom company and awake. There would always be plenty to recap from the night and babble on about in great detail. Who knew that years later this actually would be a valuable touring band member skill to have. I remain an expert at being the high energy front seat passenger who keeps the tour van driver entertained into the wee hours between long drives between shows like Seattle to Denver in 24 hours straight.

On a very special occasion my mom would stop at one of the endless diners along Rt. 17 and we would share disco fries (french fries with gravy and cheese; New Jersey’s version of poutine) and grilled cheese sandwiches. These are among my favorite memories I have of my youth.
These occasional concerts introduced me to New York City as a home away from home. Most teenagers are told to avoid their closest bustling major metropolitan, to fear it, but my experience was the exact opposite. I had gone to hundreds of museums and theater performances there as a kid with my family and was also given the training wheels to explore a little more of NYC without the guidance. This unusual freedom and trust offered a number of things. At my most impressionable age I was given the gift of experiencing live music without the filter of adult supervision. I built up street smarts from a very early age and knew my way around NYC better than most of the parents of my friends. Rather than thinking of the city as a dirty, dangerous, and worthless place, I believed it to be a mecca of culture and endless possibilities. My adult life has been built on this one of a kind foundation and my enthusiasm towards experiencing live music still thrives. City, good. Music, better. That about sums my life up to this day.

From 1986-1988  - the parentless concerts included
* R.E.M. / 10,000 Maniacs -1987 - (Stipe in a dozen shirts that were taken off one by one to reveal a new message)   
* The Replacements - 1987 (I had never seen adults so drunk before in my life)
* Depeche Mode - Music for the Masses tour - 1987
* U2 -Joshua Tree Tour - 1987 - Madison Sq. Garden. ( Bono in a sling)

* Red Hot Chili Peppers - The Ritz - 1988 (Socks in all the right places)
* Big Audio Dynamite - Irving Plaza - 1987 (The closest I ever came to seeing The Clash)
* Grateful Dead - Giant's Stadium - 1987 (Don't ask, I did it for a stupid boy)
* A Conspiracy of Hope / Amnesty International - 1986 - Giant Stadium : Third World, Peter, Paul, & Mary, Little Steven with Darlene Love and John Waite, Bob Geldof, Jackson Browne, Ruben Blades with Fela Kuti and Carlos Santana, Yoko Ono, Miles Davis, The Neville Brothers, Joan Baez, Lou Reed, Peter Gabriel, Joni Mitchell, The Police, U2, and more. (After this concert I became an active member of Amnesty International and created a chapter in my high school)

*and last but not least, Amnesty International's Human Rights Now! benefit concert in Philly - RFK Stadium - 1988 : Sting, Peter Gabriel, Bruce Sprinsteen & the E Street Band, Tracy Chapman, Youssou N'Dour, and Joan Baez.

January 20, 2013

2. Moooooose! : Tales of a Female Music Enthusiast

I attended Wandell Elementary in Saddle River, New Jersey. I was among the tallest girls in my grade and had earned the unfortunate nickname of Moose because of it. The irony is that to this day I am only 5 feet 3 but when you reach nearly that height at light speed before the rest of your class, you are a circus freak in a training bra. Throughout all of grade school I bordered on preppy (Hey, it was the ‘80s and there were whole handbooks dedicated to us) but also a total jock. Like so many kids at this crossroads age between grade school and high school, I could have easily gone in a couple of different directions (See the Breakfast Club for character references).

I could have remained an athlete who wore docksiders and popped collars off the field but once I discovered punk rock, that part of me was erased. For those of you who have seen the movie Valley Girl, I went through a transition much like the lead Julie was heading towards thanks to Randy. Only my Nicholas Cage gateway drug to counter culture was a slender Goth behind a record store counter. If we want to talk true confessions of a music obsessed woman, the movie Valley Girl made me fall even more deeply in love with being an outsider during a a time where I when I was easily influenced. I mean this "Melt With You" montage is teenage girl catnip on par with flavored lip gloss and folded notes that say "Do you like me? Circle yes or no". If I had to pick a side, Randy and Fred win. 

Our story moves to Crazy Eddie, a popular consumer electronics chain in the Northeast that also happened to stock music. The closest location to my home growing up was on Rt. 17 in Paramus and it was there that I purchased my very first LPs, cassettes, and various stereo gear*. It was this one store among the chain with an absurd ad campaign led by a man in a turtleneck no matter what season, and two very thoughtful employees, that accidentally directed me down a path of a lifetime obsession with music.  

Picking up where I left off in my last short story, I had stumbled across the band Midnight Oil via a late night TV show. I didn't know where one would find a band that wasn't played on the radio so I coyly asked the two offbeat looking characters behind the store counter to help me. One of them was an incredibly tall and lanky goth with a hypnotic bird's nest of black hair. His name was Athan and at the time he played in a band called Fahrenheit 451.  Every time my Mom or Dad drove me to Crazy Eddie, I prayed that Athan might be working so I could bask in his beautiful, new romantic, Bahausian shadow.

My recollection of the second employee is much less vivid but this can be attributed to the fact that my focus was entirely on Athan who had become my adorable grade school crush. Unfortunately gentleman number 2 has been pushed to a sidekick roll in my memory. My imagination has painted him as Pretty in Pink’s Duckie so while I was mostly star struck by the tall glass of doom and gloom, he was still charming and important to this story line.

During the middle part of this decade I had yet to fully understand what alternative meant or that it carried a distinct wardrobe / ethos / soundtrack. If we agree that the world can be broken down into two sports teams, the normal people verse the not so normal, these two Crazy Eddie employees were captains on the freak side. I approached them with my desperate need to own a Midnight Oil record and they didn't cringe or laugh. Instead they leaned in a little closer to me and inquired further. “You like this kind of music?” I confessed that I didn't know anything about this style of music, but was VERY interested. I felt like a tourist in a foreign country meeting two people who finally spoke my language. We shared an interest in something I had yet to comprehend but there was a bond between us that they not only recognized, but took the time to develop. I believe this is why so many of us on the planet have a deeply personal attachment to record stores and their employees. I know I am not alone in this experience and for those record store clerks who wonder if getting paid minimum wage has any sort of pay off, it does. You help shape young ears who in turn discover who they are through the music you direct them towards. 

Athan and store clerk #2 found me the album 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 by Midnight Oil but then they went one step further. They turned over a bright yellow Crazy Eddie bag and with a magic marker in hand, they wrote down a list of bands they thought in their humble opinion I should check out. Before the internet this handwritten list meant really only one thing. In order for me to take any of the bands on their list for a test drive, I would have to purchase them one at a time. And purchase them all I did. Approximately once a month my Mom or Dad would drive me to the store (about 15 minutes from our home), and I would cross another band off their handwritten list. 

While exploring the record racks on my own, there was little I recognized. I didn't really know what “light wave” or “heavier wave” meant but I was instantly compelled or repelled over the album art and the names of songs. I would pick a record or tape that best appealed to me through the tactile / visual experience. This technique of judging a record by the cover is one I know most people my age once relied upon. Our early record collecting ways depended on it. Pre-internet or access to music magazines and fanzines, cover art was the bait that lured a potential listener like me in. Colors, images, patterns, fonts, band photos, song titles, and credits were more important than the music itself because if the record failed to interest someone on the visual level, people were less likely to buy it. Unless the band toured and you had seen them to know what they sounded like, their album art was as important as the music itself. It’s entire purpose is to sell a listener on a band before even one note is heard. Once you spent your hard earned allowance on a record and brought it into your home, your were more likely to give it as many chances as it took to grow on you. Again, this is not an experience unique to me and because I still work at a record store and see this happen first hand. Even with all the bells and whistles that a band can use via modern technology to sell themselves, great cover art or packaging can still lure a person towards making a purchase without a customer having a clue as to what the artist sounds like. 

My favorite part of this story isn't however about the music these two guys exposed me to or how it led me to a lifetime love of underground, underdog music. It is the fact that one of these two people has reappeared in my life multiple times. The Duckie character is someone I will never forget however I still don’t know his name nor did I ever get a chance to thank him for this small gesture that has a long lasting, massive effect on me. Athan and I however have crossed paths many times since Crazy Eddie shuttered its doors in the late ‘80s

The first time we reconnected was when I illegally drove into NYC with my very new driver’s license to buy records. Buying records was that important to me and at the time I didn't know where else to find the kind of music I had decided I liked. I drove 40 minutes to the Tower Record’s in the Village (The Broadway location near where Other Music still stands) with my tattered Crazy Eddie bag in my jacket pocket. I was still buying records off the list. I selected an Elvis Costello LP and carried it proudly to the counter. The man behind the register without looking up at me replied that the record was I was about to purchase was brilliant. I replied that I should hope so because he was the one who picked it out for me. He looked up in shock. The little girl he once knew was now in her late teens and still buying his recommendations. My heart nearly exploded. I never knew what happened to Athan when the store in Paramus closed down but there he was. We caught up briefly and then parted ways. He still confined by a counter and I still being a dedicated kid customer. I was too young to get how important his list was to me at the time so I stupidly never thanked him for what has turned out to be a relief effort on par with emergency rescue. I had been a lost teen and he and his cohort not only supplied me with a map but highlighted which roads to follow.

I still aspire to write at least one song as lyrically poignant as this one by Elvis Costello.

A decade later I was working at Caroline Distribution as an entry level sales rep. One of our exclusive record labels Cleopatra Records was in the office for a meeting and in walked Athan to represent the label. It is funny how nearly all this time later, he still managed to make my heart explode with nervous energy. He wasn't just a handsome, well dressed man, he was my musical guru. It hit me like a hammer as I sat in a conference room listening to him speak about the label’s upcoming priorities in 1997. I wouldn't even be in that room working for one of the best independent music distributors (at the time) if it weren't for Athan. My passion for non top 40 music took off with the help of  those two guys at Crazy Eddie and I have spent every day of the rest of my life expanding on that original list they fed me. After the meeting we caught up on the fire escape out the office’s back door as he smoked a cigarette. I reminded him of who I was and he didn't seem all that surprised that we had found each other again. The music business is filled with many people but it often behaves like a small, private community defined by just a handful of people. The joke is you will work with the same person at least twice during your career and I still find this to be very true of the music industry. 

This time I took the time to thank Athan. I tried my best to explain to him how he helped shape me as a person but there really isn't a cool, articulate way to explain that to the catalyst in person. We have worked together for many years after that day and we are still loosely in contact. We may be middle aged now but when I think back to the first albums I purchased, the neon yellow bag I now have framed, or Athan and the other record store employee, I am still a confused teen looking for members of a tribe I had yet to define. 

Athan has gone on to play in many bands over the decades but here is a look at his most recent band, Black Tape for a Blue Girl. 

This post is a humble dedication to those who take the time to share their knowledge in a thoughtful way to strangers. I have lived my life trying to give back to others in a way that has shaped me for the better. For every action, there truly is a reaction. 

* My scores at this Crazy Eddie also included this super ridiculous  Sony turntable . It was vaguely portable and I recall dragging this thing on a plane with me and trying to play records on the fold down table in front of me in the late '80s. This is just further proof that my obsession with vinyl started young.

May 18, 2012

Outstanding Punk Rock Documentary

This documentary comes from PBS circa 1995.  In one hour you will go from NYC to England to Jamaica and back again.

November 3, 2011

Get to Know the Real N.Y.

Start here with part 1 of this great BBC documentary.