Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Have I stayed too long at the Fair?

Haven't had much time for updates lately--had a lot of stuff to catch up on after my brief visit to NYC last week. For a trip that wasn't meant to be a fun-fest (my main purpose in going was to see my mother's grave/niche), we managed to pack in quite a bit of coolness:

  • Hung out with my dear gal-pal Cristina at the Beauty Bar, and only later did I find out there was a Vampyros Lesbos party at Happy Ending that same night (a bar situated in a former Chinatown massage parlor), at which another old friend of mine, Viva Knievel/DJ Chocolatina (I know her as Annie), was go-go dancing.
  • Went to the Met Museum for the Chanel (disappointing layout and not enough historical garments for my taste), Diane Arbus (fascinating and easy to describe to Rocky the Blind Lemon Squirrel), and Marquesan tiki exhibits.
  • Watched some shows at the TV Museum--a "Fridays" with Sir Douglas Quintet, a doc called "Youth '68" directed by Jim Henson but with nary a Muppet in sight, and Leonard Bernstein's "Inside Pop: The Rock Revolution."
  • Saw a fab sign painted high up on the side of the following building: "1650 BROADWAY: THE BEST-KNOWN ADDRESS IN THE ENTERTAINMENT WORLD"--may it never be painted over or otherwise obscured.
  • Went record shopping at Rockit Scientist, Kim's, Other Music, Bleecker St. Records and Generation Records--R.I.P. Wowsville (I'll probably devote an entry to that store in the future).
  • Tried the Shake Shack at Madison Square Park--decent, but overrated by the burgermeisters at A Hamburger Today and in all the other reviews I'd read...I'll take the super-thick, ultra-succubus concoctions at the NY Milkshake Co. on St. Mark's over the watery ones at the Shack any old day.
  • Went for breakfast at the Pop Diner on Queens Blvd. My family frequented the place when it was called the Sage Diner, but it's been completely overhauled as an early-'60s googie fantasy, replete with sputnik lamps, faux Warhol prints, an orange-and-turquoise color scheme reminiscent of Howard Johnson's, and great food--dug it so much I had to go back on another morning. Speaking of HoJo's, its B'way/46th St. location, one of the last vestiges of old Times Square, is making a dodo-like exit sometime this summer.
  • Went to the Joey Ramone Birthday Bash at Irving Plaza--highlight of the night was a punky supergroup-type finale, featuring Marky Ramone on drums and a rotating cast of singers...Ronnie Spector (so cool to hear Marky drumming in a non-Ramone manner), Ivan Julian from the Voidoids, Tish & Snooky and another guy from the Sic Fucks, Theo from the Lunachicks, Tommy Ramone singing "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend," Joey's brother Mickey Leigh, and others I'm blanking out on.
  • Browsed at the Strand for an hour or so...dig the spacious new art department on the 2nd floor!
  • Finally made it out to Magnetic Field, a fab Brooklyn Heights rock & roll cocktail bar owned by fellow Bomp-lister Lee Soundviews (didn't see him there, though), to catch the fantastic Crybabies. While there we were pleased to meet up with our buddy Blair, the most intrepid live music fan in the tri-state area if not the planet, who practically insisted we join him on a trek down to Asbury Park, NJ to catch a late Lyres set at the Asbury Lanes. Not only was it a great opportunity to catch up with Blair, but it was a much-appreciated chance to check out the Lanes, a vintage bowling alley that's been putting on some super-cool rock shows as of late. Blair reports that the block it inhabits, which also houses the Fastlane club and a funky little old movie theater whose name escapes me, might be slated for demolition--take in the rock-n-bowl while you can.
  • Didn't make it to Satchmo's house as I'd hoped, but I did get to walk through Flushing Meadows, mega-park of my misspent youth. It's basically the same as I remember it being--a few new additions and subtractions here and there, but no drastic overhauling. Yet there is one feature it doesn't seem to have anymore. When I was very young and my father was teaching me how to ride a bike there, I always noticed a remarkable number of bumps on the asphalt paths. They'd vary in size and shape, and the Parks Dept. maintenance workers would paint big circles and X's on them in yellow or white paint to warn riders away from them. My overactive imagination conjectured that the heat of Hell had caused the warping and buckling (yes, I was a weird kid), but I guess those bumps were symptomatic of the unsteady ground on which the park was built--part swamp, part Fitzgeraldian "Valley of Ashes." Either the Parks Dept. figured out a way to prevent the bumps, or they're more frequently leveled/repaired these days.

I wanted to write a full-blown entry on bands that played the WORLD'S FAIR, 'cause I've always fantasized that it must have been a hotbed of mid-'60s rock & roll action--after all, '64/'65 were the prime post-British Invasion years when garage bands sprouted like fungi. Truth be told I haven't had much time to research this topic, and what little time I have had hasn't yielded much info. So far I can confirm the following: New York surf band the Malibooz, who played at the NYS Pavilion and appeared in the first color-TV broadcast from the RCA Pavilion; the Galaxies IV from Trenton, N.J., who played over 80 times at various Pavilions (including their home state's) and were such a hit that Robert Moses set aside one '65 date as "Galaxies IV Day"; Candy Johnson and the Exciters Band, who performed four to eight energetic sets a day during the '65 season at the New Orleans Club; and ska band Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, who played at either the Singer Bowl or the Jamaican Pavilion in 1964 (I've heard that other ska bands also appeared at the Fair that year in an effort to introduce ska to an international audience, but I haven't yet been able to confirm names). Apparently there was a discotheque called the Cafe Au Go Go Upstairs at the Carnival Pavilion during the '65 season. I'll try to unearth other bands/performers at another time.

[UPDATE 7/20/2006: Billy and Miriam of Norton Records recently published an essential interview with Mary Weiss on their site. Turns out there was a Shangri-Las Day at the Fair too!]

Since we're focusing on the area we might as well examine SHEA STADIUM for a bit. (A "Subway Series" was going on there while we were in town.) Despite the legend of "the Beatles at Shea" (August 15, 1965 and August 23, 1966), the stadium hasn't been used as a concert venue all that often, probably due to excessive noise from LaGuardia's flight paths. [Side note: the Beatles took a helicopter to get to the '65 date; it landed at the heliport atop the Fair's four-sided-T-shaped Port Authority Building. The building later became a catering hall called Terrace on the Park; my father worked there as a bartender on weekend shifts for many years.] Here's a short list of those who have given concerts there (God bless the Mets' website):

  • Summer Festival for Peace, August 6, 1970, featuring Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix.
  • Grand Funk Railroad, July 9, 1971. (Some sites say it was June 9. Legend has it this show broke the Beatles' ticket sales record. The Maysles brothers filmed it for a TV special which was never aired.)
  • Jethro Tull, with support from Robin Trower and Rory Gallagher, July 23, 1976. (My brother went to this one; I guess he wasn't lying about the "Tull-A-Vision" video screens.)
  • The Who's so-called Farewell Tour, with the Clash as openers, October 12 & 13, 1982.
  • Simon & Garfunkel, August 6, 1983.
  • The Police, August 18, 1983.
  • The Rolling Stones' Steel Wheels Tour, October 10, 11, 25, 26, 28, & 29, 1989. (I was at one of these shows, and though I can't recall the date, I do vividly remember being freaked out over how much the tier above me visibly bounced to the rhythm of dancing Stones fans--I was certain it would collapse at any second.)
  • Elton John and Eric Clapton, August 21 & 22, 1992.
  • Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, October 1, 3 & 4, 2003.

Finally, a word about shows in the post-Fair Flushing Meadows itself. Some time in the summer of '92 a Cure concert at the park was announced. It was never specified exactly where in the park it was to take place, but tickets were sold and the aforemented Cristina and I made plans to go (I was no huge Cure fan, but what the hell, the park was 2 blocks from my house!). Before we could get our tickets, however, the show was cancelled. No sweat--there was no chance it could have ever topped the event I'd witnessed there on June 27, 1987--a free show in honor of Queens Day, featuring the Queens Symphony Orchestra, the Wailers (sans Bob Marley of course), Leslie Gore, Lou Christie, Vernon Reid's Living Colour, and the freakin' RAMONES!!! This was the first time I'd ever seen them live--and call me a naive, starry-eyed teenybopper, but it truly felt as if they were giving it up for their real hometown crowd. Meat Loaf headlined the following day's festivities, and though his career was mired in a mega-limbo equidistant between the two highs of "Bat Out Of Hell" and "Bat Out Of Hell II," I was impressed with his showmanship.

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