Thursday, July 28, 2005

You best be at that dance down on 14th Street, you hear?

ACADEMY OF MUSIC/THE PALLADIUM--126 E. 14th Street, between 3rd and 4th Avenues. A major rock venue of the '70s, and a humongous high-tech dance club in the '80s, this was the second theater building on 14th Street to bear the Academy of Music name.

The original Academy stood across the street at the northeast corner of 14th and Irving Place, and was "the city's first successful opera house," according to Terry Miller's Greenwich Village and How It Got That Way (New York: Crown, 1990). Designed by architect Alexander Saeltzer and built in 1854, it hosted the American premieres of Il Trovatore, La Traviata, Die Walkure, and Carmen, and such major social events as an 1860 ball in honor of the Prince of Wales. The Academy also has a roundabout connection to the birth of American musical theater. In May of 1866, a fire at the theater left a French ballet troupe stranded without a place to perform. The company, its scenery, and its elaborate stage effects were hastily added to a production of The Black Crook at Niblo's Garden; the resulting bizarre combination of Faustian drama and tutu-and-tights dance routines became a major hit and is widely considered to be the first full-fledged Broadway musical.

The Academy was restored after the fire, but it didn't last much longer as an opera house. In the Whartonesque high society of the times, one was looked down upon if one did not have a box at the opera--and to the frustration of newer Gilded Age millionaires, Old New York's most aristocratic families had long kept a tight hold on the Academy's eighteen boxes. In protest, the nouveaux riches decided to build their own palace of prestige further uptown--the original Metropolitan Opera House at 1423 Broadway near 39th Street, opened in 1883. This new house not only had ample boxes, it also had its own resident company and musical director--aspects which the Academy had always lacked. Old money was forced to admit defeat, and soon defected to the boxes at the Metropolitan. The Academy presented its last opera in 1885, and thereafter offered the public a mixture of theater, vaudeville, and later, films. [Click here for a cartoon depicting an 1871 ball held there in honor of the Grand Duke of Russia. Here and here are essays about an early experiment in widescreen film shown there in 1897. Click here to see a program from December, 1909. Sammy Cahn was inspired to take up songwriting after witnessing a vaudeville show there, according to an anecdote presented on this site. And here is a picture of the building's exterior taken sometime in the early 1900s--I can't discern if the Brewster's Millions on the marquee refers to a live production or the 1914 DeMille film.] The theater was torn down in 1926; the Con Edison Building now stands in its place.

While the second Academy of Music was obviously named after its predecessor, music was not its original raison d'etre. According to one frequent and knowledgeable poster on cinematreasures.org, it

was built by William Fox, with Thomas Lamb as architect. It was never intended as a concert hall, and first opened in 1927 as a deluxe "presentation" house with a feature movie and vaudeville. Fox had been shut out of building in the Broadway-Times Square area, so he hoped that crowds would flock to 14th Street to attend this beautifully appointed 3,600-seat theatre, but that didn't happen. With the onset of the Depression, Fox lost his entire theatre empire, including the Academy of Music. In the bankruptcy proceedings that followed, the Academy became part of the Skouras circuit, which operated it for the rest of its four decades as a movie theatre. Skouras was notorious for its housekeeping, and the Academy became increasingly shabby and uncomfortable with the passing of time.

Another contributor remembers it as being "mostly a Fox or Universal programmed grindhouse." Unfortunately I haven't found any details about said films, or of possible vaudeville performers who may have graced the Academy's stage--but I did learn that the place was also used for the occasional boxing match.

The Academy's first big rock and roll event appears to have been an Alan Freed show over the Christmas holiday in 1955, featuring the Cadillacs, LaVern Baker, the Valentines, the Heartbeats, the Wrens, the 3 Chuckles, the Bonnie Sisters, and the Count Basie Orchestra. The next rock act I've confirmed is the Rolling Stones, who played the hall on October 24, 1964, and May 1 and November 6, 1965. Tom Wolfe describes the scene at the '64 show to super-fab effect in his essay about Baby Jane Holzer, "The Girl of the Year" [available in The Purple Decades (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1982) or The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby (New York: Bantam, 1999 reprint)]. Bob Gruen recounts his memories of the November '65 gig here.






Another cinematreasures guy remembers seeing the Kinks and the Dave Clark 5--most likely that was on June 19, 1965, if this Kinks info site is correct. Impresario Sid Bernstein orchestrated these British Invasions. There were probably other shows, but such concerts seem to have been sporadic, isolated events--the Academy wouldn't hit its stride as a rock & roll stronghold until a few years later.

[UPDATE 7/13/2006: Add the Beach Boys to the list of mid-'60s Academy biggies--they played the hall on February 13, 1965. Glen Campbell had prior session commitments, so Brian fulfilled his old bass duties. This tidbit of info was culled from Brad Elliot's "Do You Remember?: A Chronology of the Beach Boys, 1964-65," an article in the ultra-fab Dumb Angel Gazette # 4: All Summer Long.]

[UPDATE 7/17/2006: I should check the cinematreasures.org page on the Academy more often...I just found out about Murray the K's "Gigantic Christmas Show" over the 1961 holiday season. Headliners included Johnny Mathis from December 22-23, Bobby Vee from the 24th through the 29th, and Dion from December 30 through January 1. Other acts were nothing to sniff at, including Joey Dee & the Starliters, Gary U.S. Bonds, Timi Yuro, Bobby Lewis, the Isley Brothers, Jan & Dean, the Belmonts, the Vibrations, the Crystals, the Chantels...and the Lone Twister!]




[UPDATE 5/30/2010: Found this poster (on britishinvasionradio.com) which might clear up a few things about other Invaders who played there. However, I've heard that the Moody Blues didn't get immigration clearance to play the show with the Kinks.  There's a variation of the poster on sidbernsteinpresents.com, a site for an upcoming documentary on the man.]



A fellow named Howard Stein turned the Academy into the city's leading '70s rockitorium. Don't know very much about him apart from this colorful characterization in Anthony Haden-Guest's The Last Party: Studio 54, Disco, and the Culture of the Night (New York: William Morrow, 1997):

Howard Stein is a New Yorker. A springy, dapper man, his black hair slick as polish on a balding pate, he has a bright grin but can switch from charm to chill in a nanosecond. Some attribute this to like father like son--Howard's father, Jack "Ruby" Stein, had been a loan shark, who ended up floating down the Hudson, sans head. About this, Stein is overly sensitive, although most of the grand young Euros in New York had family histories at least as baroque. Stein was one of New York's main producers of rock concerts in the late sixties. "Bill Graham was my major competitor," Stein says..."I was doing shows at a theater in Westchester County. I was like Castro. In the hills. Taking little shots, making forays, while he controlled the market in New York City. I did a Sonny and Cher concert when they were still wearing alpaca vests."

That venue was the Capitol Theater in Port Chester; he also promoted shows at Gaelic Park in the Bronx's Riverdale section, and at the New York State Pavilion in Flushing Meadow. Shortly after Graham closed the Fillmore East, Stein seized the opportunity to take over the Academy. Apparently the place was even renamed Howard Stein's Academy of Music, but I haven't located a photo of any marquee signage that would corroborate this. Some notable performers/performances of the early to mid-'70s include:

A series of "Rock and Roll Revival" oldies shows, featuring such groups as Danny & the Juniors, the Moonglows, the Harptones, and the Fleetwoods.

Alice Cooper with Wet Willie, late 1971.

Black Sabbath, October 22, 1971.

The Band closed out 1971 with three shows, culminating in a special appearance by Bob Dylan at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve. This engagement was later documented on a live album, Rock of Ages.

Hot Tuna played the Academy at least once a year through much of the decade--check out the dates here.

The Grateful Dead, March 1972 (and the Spring of 1977).

New Riders of the Purple Sage, November 22 and 23, 1972.

Hawkwind had their U.S. debut there in November, 1973.

Lou Reed's pivotal live album Rock and Roll Animal was recorded there on December 21, 1973.

KISS, Teenage Lust, Iggy and the Stooges and Blue Oyster Cult played on New Year's Eve, 1973. Iggy's set wound up on a 2000 live album, Double Danger. KISS opened for Argent and Redbone a few weeks later on January 26. [UPDATE 10/14/2008: A former Academy employee named Michael recently wrote to inform me that the Stooges didn't play on this bill. There is a scan of a newspaper ad for this show on the wonderful Teenage Lust myspace page which lists BOC, Teenage Lust, and Iggy, but no KISS, so go figure. Also check out the fab page for Harold's Loft.] [UPDATE 3/7/2009: I'm a little slow on the uptake but the fabulous Harold from Teenage Lust set me straight that this gig did go off as originally listed! Retina-searing pics from this show are on Teenage Lust's myspace! GO THERE NOW!!!]


The New York Dolls' February 15, 1974 gig was dubbed the "St. Valentine's Day Massacre" (er, Mascara?). After opening acts Elliott Murphy and KISS were done, a special Bob Gruen film was screened. Entitled The Lipstick Killers and styled like an old newsreel, it depicted the five Dolls as '30s gangsters, their natty suits offset by full makeup. "The film ends with them riding up 14th Street firing off machine guns, then running into the theater," recalls Gruen in Nina Antonia's Too Much Too Soon: The Makeup and Breakup of the New York Dolls (London: Omnibus, 1998). "Then they would suddenly appear for real, running down the aisles wearing the same gangster costumes, shooting the audience. Now for some people in the audience who were on the right drugs and peaking at the right time, this worked amazingly well. I know some people for whom this was the experience of a lifetime! There was this one kid who got beaten up by the guards because he got so hysterically excited." [However, according to one eyewitness the PA crapped out on every other song. And according to one commenter, KISS didn't play this show. The Gruen film can be seen in his Dolls DVD, All Dolled Up.]

Fleetwood Mac, January 26 and October 5, 1974.

Soft Machine, with Renaissance and Larry Coryell's Eleventh House, March 23, 1974. [This conflicts with info on kissfaq.com, which states that KISS, Renaissance, Eleventh House, and Argent were on the bill.]




[NOTE: Some of the above KISS dates are incorrect--please see the comment below.]

Poco, with the James Cotton Band, April 5, 1974.

Genesis, May 4, 1974.

Gentle Giant shared a bill with those yodelin' fools Focus on November 1 and 3, 1974, and played there again with Alvin Lee on January 18, 1975.

Robin Trower wah-wahed his way through an April 18, 1975 gig.

Aerosmith are said to have frequently played the hall, but I haven't been able to confirm any dates.

According to this article, many of the shows broadcast on ABC's In Concert series were filmed there. And speaking of films, the cinematreasures.org page states that the place still operated as a B-movie theater by day throughout the decade. But by 1976, Howard Stein was out of the picture. Like Graham before him, he had found himself frustrated by the economics, and ego-nomics, of rock promotion. More quotes from The Last Party:

"It was a secret that a small number of us know. About this new industry. The British Invasion. Where you could pay a band between $500 and $5,000 and it could make you $10,000...$25,000...$50,000...I remember paying $2,500 to Pink Floyd. On their last American tour I think they grossed $65 million...Suddenly all these obscure rock and roll bands had very powerful attorneys, very powerful business managers, and agents, and the deals they were offering were terrible...They were delegating promoters to being caterers, limousine orderers, drug dealers, and pimps...You got paid $25,000 while they grossed millions of dollars. And when you booked a marginal band there was an unlimited downside...It all changed...I remember Cat Stevens telling me that he wasn't coming onstage because the crabs on his backstage menu were not Alaskan King crabs. Or Alice Cooper complaining because the beer had to be in cans, not in bottles. Some promoter saying we had to take the green M&Ms out of the batches. Nobody appreciated This Is Spinal Tap more than I did. I knew that it was time to leave. I had a little omen...I was doing a Grateful Dead concert. The marquee sign said HOWARD STEIN PRESENTS THE GRATEFUL DEAD. And it dropped its P. When I went to work that morning I saw HOWARD STEIN RESENTS THE GRATEFUL DEAD. And I knew the whole world had now discovered my secret. That I hated this industry...having no input into the musical productions...into the sounds...into the lights...into the advertising campaigns..." [B]ut he also hated being taken for a sucker, and thought he might effect a change by whaling into the agents...The agents said, "Fine!" They didn't call him anymore. Other suckers were beating their doors down. "Then when I decided I needed them, I called...They didn't take my calls...[I'd been] quasi-blackballed by the industry...I was stupid enough--I'm glad I was stupid enough--to think that rock and roll was dying. And that it was being replaced by disco."


[UPDATE 5/31/2011:  The administrator of the Academy/Palladium Facebook page pointed out that the ABC In Concert shows filmed in New York were actually done at the Brooklyn 46th St. Rock Palace--a fact I did come across long after writing this post, but forgot to come back and fix here.  Also, despite Stein's evocative anecdote about the dropped "P," he says there's no way a letter would have fallen off the marquee sign.  "I was the one who would go out and change the letters on the marquee and trust me the letters were made of wrought iron and weighed about a pound a piece and locked in solid."]   


Stein later re-emerged with clubs like Xenon, the Rock Lounge, and Au Bar. Meanwhile, ravenous rock freaks still had use for the old hall--and so the Academy was renamed the Palladium, with superpromoter Ron Delsener assuming the booking duties. Here's yet another non-exhaustive list of notable bands/shows--don't worry, it's got more coolness per capita than the one above:

The Band did a multi-night stand in September, 1976--their penultimate shows before the Last Waltz at Winterland.

Jeff Beck, October 18, 1976.

Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, October 28 through November 4, 1976, and September 15 through 17, 1978. Here's a pic of him and Little Steven at the stage door.

Lou Reed again, November 13, 1976.

Neil Young and Crazy Horse, November 18 through 20, 1976. Neil's Rust Never Sleeps concert film was also screened there in August, 1979.

Foghat, December 11, 1976--check out these photos.

Frank Zappa, Christmas week 1976--recorded live for Zappa in New York. He also did a Halloween gig in 1977, much of which wound up in the film Baby Snakes--plus another Halloween show in 1981.

The Patti Smith Group, John Cale, and Television, New Year's Eve 1976--check out the advert (which also shows dates for Dave Mason).


Bob Seger, with Rush as openers, March 6, 1977. Rush played later that year on November 12 with UFO, Cheap Trick, and Max Webster, and again on January 13 & 14, 1979. And Cheap Trick shared a bill with the Cars on September 22, 1978.

Procol Harum had their 10th anniversary show there on May 15, 1977.

AC/DC made their New York debut supporting the Dictators on August 24, 1977 (Michael Stanley was the opener), and apparently this was the first show in which Angus Young used a liberating cordless guitar set-up. They returned to open for Rainbow on August 24, 1978, and for UFO on June 9, 1979. The band finally headlined--sadly sans the late Bon Scott--on August 1, 1980, with support from Def Leppard and Humble Pie. Have a gander at some great photos of that gig, including rare shots of the Palladium's exterior and interior.

Thin Lizzy, October 22, 1977. The boys were back in town (sorry, couldn't resist) from September 29 through October 1, 1978, sharing the bill with Blue Oyster Cult.

Fresh from their New Year's Eve '77 It's Alive show in London, the Ramones headlined the Palladium on January 7, 1978, with the Runaways and Suicide as openers. The show, recorded for the King Biscuit Flower Hour, was recently released on CD. It's nearly identical to It's Alive, except the crowd noises reflect a certain Manhattan vibe, and Joey doesn't pronounce "Beach" as "Baych" or "DDT" as "D-Day-Tay." The band's other Palladium dates include October 6, 1977 (with Iggy Pop), March 9, 1979 (with Lester Bangs' Birdland), and New Year's Eve 1979.

Angel, the Godz, and Judas Priest, March 10, 1978. Priest played there again at least three other times--April 21 and November 4, 1979, and July 22, 1981.

Elvis Costello was a fairly frequent Palladium Attraction--May 6, 1978, March 31, 1979, January 31 to February 2, 1981, New Year's Eve 1981, and August 27, 1989. At this last one, the vegetarian Declan apparently refused to go on until a banner reading "Burger King Presents Elvis Costello" was removed.

The Kinks, June 2, 1978 and New Year's Eve 1980.

The Rolling Stones similarly returned to the scene of some of their earliest NYC triumphs on June 19, 1978.

Blondie headlined on November 12, 1978; Robert Fripp provided some Frippertronics to their set, and Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels opened. Blondie's previous Palladium dates include March 18, 1977 (opening for David Bowie and Iggy Pop) and May 11, 1978 (with Robert Gordon and Link Wray).

The Clash played several legendary Palladium shows: February 17, 1979 with the Cramps and Bo Diddley opening (that was my 8th birthday--why didn't somebody take me???); September 20 and 21 later that year, with support from the Undertones, Sam and Dave, and Siouxsie and the Banshees; and finally on March 7, 1980. The iconic cover image for London Calling was taken at the 9/21/79 show.

Graham Parker and the Rumour, May 11, 1979.

The Boomtown Rats, sometime in May 1979.

Dire Straits, September 11, 1979.

Devo, July 21, 1979 and November 19 and 20, 1982.

Rory Gallagher, November 17, 1979.

The Buzzcocks, with the Fall and the Sports, December 1, 1979.

There was a power pop extravaganza on December 13, 1979, featuring 20/20, the Sinceros, the Beat, and Bruce Woolley.

The Jam, February 29, 1980 and May 15 and 18, 1982.

Public Image, Ltd., April 20, 1980.

The Pretenders, sometime in May, 1980.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, July 4 and 5, 1980--betcha he opened with "American Girl."

Tom Waits, November 18, 1980.

Pat Benatar, November 22, 1980.

Squeeze, January 31 to February 2, 1981.

Ozzy Osbourne, with the late Randy Rhoads on guitar, May 2, 1981.

U2, May 29, 1981, and May 11, 1983 with the Dream Syndicate.

I'd go on, but my research time is limited. Basically it seems like most well-known late-'70s touring acts not big enough for the Garden--or who wished to avoid the Garden altogether--trod the Palladium's boards at some point in their careers. More names and dates are listed on this ticket stub site--looks like an awful lot of Palladium shows were sponsored by Mateus wine. What I'd really love to add are descriptions of the Palladium's general atmosphere and decor--but pertinent anecdotes have been hard to find.

Sometime around '83/'84, concerts stopped and the building was shopped around to other developers. Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager, then searching for a place to build upon the legacy of Studio 54, inspected the site. At first they were wary--opening a club in yet another old theater would inevitably invite comparisons to Studio. But when the other locations they scouted proved unsuitable--including "bus garages on Ninth Avenue, the East 68th Street heliport, the disused train station under the Waldorf-Astoria...the Cloud Club in the Chrysler Building...[and] a savings bank on W. 36th Street," according to The Last Party--they cast their lot with the Palladium. The name was retained, and "when architect Arata Isozaki was asked to adapt the classic theater for use as a slick disco...he did [so] by honoring rather than obliterating its staid interior," as described in Greenwich Village and How It Got That Way. The balcony, plaster moldings, and stage were cleaned up a bit and left intact; the orchestra pit was leveled for dancefloor use, and a multilevel cubic grid with lights and video screens galore was built around it. To add to the visual overload, downtown artists like Keith Haring, Francesco Clemente, Eric Fischl, David Salle, Laurie Anderson, Kenny Scharf, and Jean-Michel Basquiat were commissioned to create paintings, installations, and videos. The design-conscious building was so vast it could hold clubs-within-the-club--such as the Mike Todd Room, a "VIP" lounge housed in what was said to have been the private screening room of the eponymous producer/Liz Taylor Husband #3. (In turn, the Todd Room was itself large enough to have its own separate VIP areas, nicknamed Betty Ford In-Patients and Out-Patients.) The Palladium opened in May 1985; its ensuing fortunes and phases ebbed and flowed throughout its existence, finally petering out in the late '90s after several years as part of Peter Gatien's scandalous empire. Here's a picture of the marquee, probably taken near the end. It was always mainly a DJ-fied dance club, but the occasional live show was held there--including Einsturzende Neubauten, Elvis Costello, Neil Young, Debbie Harry, and the Dictators. I was there exactly one time that I can recall, ca. '89/'90, for a show with Fishbone, the Dead Milkmen, and an unannounced "special guest." As I'd surmised, it was 2 Live Crew, then at the height of their PMRC infamy. I don't remember much from the show, save for marveling at the still-extant plaster wall details up in the balcony.

The Palladium--along with Julian's Pool Hall on the second floor--was demolished in 1998. NYU soon planted its ubiquitous purple flag on the empty lot, and by 2001 the massive Palladium Residence Hall and Athletic Facility loomed overhead. Seems like 14th Street is not as pronounced a border between Uptown and Downtown anymore.




[UPDATE 1/6/2007: Manhattan's first branch of Trader Joe's was installed in the ground floor retail space of NYU's complex in the spring of 2006. I recently located both a NY Times article and a myspace page devoted to the Palladium's dance club era. I was also recently contacted by a good fellow who worked at the Academy of Music during the Howard Stein era...if I'm real good, maybe he'll share some memories of his stint there. This person had a query about the name of the promoter who organized the Academy's oldies shows in the late '60s and early '70s. I'm stumped--any takers?] 




[ADDENDUM: A while back I came across this photo (and can't recall which site I pilfered it from--forgive me). Obviously these are all '60s acts, but I assume this was probably a '70s-era oldies show. Haven't located any info on it, though.]

[ADDENDUM 4/24/2009: A fellow named Kevin kindly sent me a night-vision photo of the same marquee, and confirms that "Murray Kaufman's last-known musical extravaganza" took place in July, 1978.]




UPDATE 12/19/2010:  The cinematreasures.org page for the Academy of Music has a lot more posts now than when I first consulted it to write this entry, and many of them are rock and roll-related.  One guy on there seems to be on a mission to track down the dates for every rock show held there.  His list as of his 2008 post isn't complete, but he was well on his way.  There are also lots of cool comments about the Academy's/Palladium's atmosphere (the general consensus being that it was kind of a dump), plus some insightful behind-the-scenes anecotes from people who worked there.  (The site has also established a page for the original Academy of Music, since it did operate as a movie theater near the end of its existence.)  I've found some ads for late '60s and early '70s Academy shows in the Village Voice archives, and the Getty Images site has some cool pics of the Beach Boys and the Stones playing there in the mid-'60s--check 'em out here.  There's also a yahoogroup and a Facebook group for the joint (and a FB group for its dance-club era too).  Here are a few pics from cinematreasures depicting the Academy in its earlier days (the first one shows firefighters putting out a small fire there while a crowd watches from across 14th Street).








UPDATE 7/15/2012:  Over the last couple of years I've gathered as many Academy/Palladium ads from the Village Voice as I could find.  Use the search function or click on the Academy or Palladium labels to locate the posts featuring these ads.

UPDATE 9/18/2013:  The Bedford + Bowery blog recently did a couple of posts about the Academy/Palladium.  The first one includes some tales from a few folks who played there, and the second includes a tribute to Sid Bernstein.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Just a couple o' tidbits

I guess I never paid much attention to the plaque outside ST. MARKS SOUNDS at 20 St. Marks Place, 'cause my eyes sorta bugged out when I saw an entry for the building in my recently-purchased copy of Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel's The Landmarks of New York (New York: Monacelli Press, 2005). [God bless BMV Books!] Dating from 1832 and designated as a landmark in 1969, the house has some significant Old New York ties; its original owner was Daniel LeRoy, a South Street merchant who was a son-in-law of Elizabeth and Nicholas Fish (Elizabeth was a descendant of Peter Stuyvesant) and brother-in-law to Hamilton Fish. Diamonstein-Spielvogel writes:

The LeRoy House is constructed in Flemish bond brickwork trimmed with stone. It is one of four houses on the block that retain the ornately decorated iron handrails at the stoop, low, birdcage newel posts, and iron railings in the windows of the parlor floor. The arched stone entrance has a triple keystone and a Gibbs surround. Utilitarian doors and a plain transom have replaced the original entrance and its beautiful fanlight.

According to Andrew S. Dolkart's Guide to New York City Landmarks, Second Edition (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1998), the building is the "sole intact survivor" of a former "elegant row of 3 1/2-story brick houses erected on speculation by Thomas E. Davis."

As for the store--it's a fun place to look for bargain used CDs and vinyl, but I usually found its selection of new items to be lacking in breadth and depth. More new stuff used to be available at its sister location a few doors down at 16 St. Marks, but that shop is closed down now. I've never been to the Grassroots Tavern at the ground floor of 20 St. Marks, but it's apparently a pleasant dive.


From the "Still Spotting Cheetahs" file: There's a jazz specialty channel on Canadian digital cable called Cool TV--I watch it mainly for its Ed Sullivan, Judy Garland, Rosemary Clooney & Nat King Cole reruns, and also for its nightly "Cool Movie," which is either a great old musical or a drama about music. This past weekend they showed Young Man With A Horn, about the rise, fall, and resurrection of a trumpet player (supposedly loosely based on the life of Bix Beiderbecke). The story was rather predictable, but the cast couldn't be beat (Kirk Douglas, Doris Day, Lauren Bacall, & Hoagy Carmichael), the trumpet parts were dubbed in by Harry James, and there were lotsa lovely location shots of L.A. and NYC. Particularly notable among these were some long scenes at the Aragon Ballroom, which would years later be the home of the L.A. Cheetah. (Notice how I've conveniently bypassed discussion of the Aragon's '50s Lawrence Welk phase.)

And I'm gonna "See the Cheetah (At the Hangout)" tonite, when the Woggles play a rare Toronto gig at the Horseshoe Tavern!

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

RAPP, RAPP, RAPP, they called it the RAPP, uh...

RAPP ARTS CENTER, 220 E. 4th Street b/w Avenues A & B. Many years ago I read a Village Voice article about this short-lived (late '80s to early '90s) institution--but I didn't save it for "the archives," and as such the fine details are lost to me. AFAIK, the RAPP (lord knows what the acronym stood for) was a multidisciplinary arts center, featuring avant-garde theater/performance art, dance, music, and visual arts. In addition to performance and gallery spaces, it also offered some living and studio quarters for artists--a college friend of mine knew a young writer who actually lived on the premises. The Center's 19th-century building had formerly been a Catholic school (all-boys IIRC), and the Catholic Archdiocese of New York still owned it--which caused some problems when the Church disapproved of the RAPP's presentations (either that, or they were just frustrated over non-payment of rent).

From time to time the RAPP would host rock shows. This current photo of the building's restored theater space looks a lot like how I remember it, but of course my memories may be faulty. Truth be told I can only recall being there twice--for a Redd Kross/Pussywillows/Embarrassment show, and for a big ska night featuring the Toasters, both in late '89. The only other rock references I've found online are to a Gwar/Mudhoney bill in November of 1988, and for a hardcore show at an unspecified date--but I'm sure there were others.

The building still stands and is now home to the Cornelia Connelly Center, a learning facility for girls from local low-income households. When not used for school productions, the auditorium space is rented out to various theater and dance companies, including the Metropolitan Playhouse.

Monday, July 11, 2005

A far cry from Jenny Lind

NIGHTINGALE'S BAR, 213 Second Avenue (NW corner of 13th St. & 2nd Ave.) Rejoice--despite my penchant for tracing a locale's evolutions, you'll get no longwinded essay about the historical transitions of this place. I have no idea what establishment preceded Nightingale's, nor do I know when it opened as such. It's often described as a dive, but I never found it to be particularly sleazy or scumbuckety. It was more of a plain, nondescript type of neighborhood joint--ugly brown facade (I could be wrong but ISTR the front sign misspelled as "Nightengale's"--probably a remnant of a beer-soaked false memory, though), long bar on one side, postage stamp-sized "stage" about four inches higher than the floor on the other, pool table at the back. It offered live music just about every night of the week, usually without a cover.

The bar's main claim to fame is that it was one of the main hubs for the city's late '80s-to-early '90s neo-hippie jam band movement, fostering outfits like Blues Traveler (who wrote a song about the place), Joan Osborne, the Spin Doctors, and God Street Wine. NOT MY SCENE, but since the Hunter dorms housed a surprising number of its fans, I couldn't help but be exposed to it--especially that fun-filled semester when I had two of its biggest proponents living on either side of my dorm room. One was a gorgeous Italian-as-in-from-Italy gal who was widely rumored to be John Popper's primo-numero-uno groupie. "Why is this beautiful chick wasting the best years of her life on that fat harmonica-fweeting f**khead?" I'd often ask myself, as she would blast yet another 15-minute harmonica solo off some live bootleg Traveler tape. Meanwhile, the guy on the other side seemed to subsist on a steady musical diet of either the Dead or Bob Marley played at plaster-loosening volume. They were really nice people and I got along with them well, but Bongwater was about as wanked-out as I usually wanted to get back then.

Somehow I did make it to Nightingale's fairly regularly, but not for any of the aforementioned bands, thank you very much. Luckily its booking policies encompassed more styles than jam-band noodling. Got to give a shout-out here to my dear friend Pete, a fine rockabilly-influenced guitarist for whom it was a pleasure to be a cheering section; he performed there often, with his sibling-oriented rockabilly duo Rudy and Ludlow and with the indescribably cool Skepticats. There were sporadic garage-type gigs during the '90s--at one of these I was enraptured by the powerhouse pipes of Jahna Rain, then of the Innuendoes and now of the Demands, the Miscreants and the Coal Gems. Most legendary, at least among the garagenik set, were the Fleshtones' series of residency gigs in '98 and '99--read some reminiscences here, here, here, and here.

Apparently Nightingale's closed down for a while before re-emerging as the Nightingale Lounge, presumably under new management. I haven't been to this new incarnation, but I gather it's more upscale/DJ-fied, and caters a lot less to rock & roll types.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Still hangin' out on Second Avenue

ANDERSON THEATER--66 Second Avenue b/w 3rd and 4th Streets. It's been difficult to ascertain any historical data about the Anderson--when it was built, its original purpose, etc.--but most accounts state it was primarily a Yiddish theater, which makes complete sense given its location. The best I was able to come up with is this description from world-theatres.com, but the "facts" are probably not 100% accurate: "Anderson Theatre - was located at 66 2nd Ave. in the lower east side of NYC - 5,000 seats [I believe it was more like 2,000] - theater entrance structure is still there with that same address but it is now a pharmacy business. The theater wrapped around a corner building and part of the theater was also on the south side of 4th Street. The 4th St. side of the theater is long gone replaced by some modern housing - began as Yiddish Playhouse circa late 1800s or early 1900s, then used as a music venue in the late 1960s." I've found a scant few references to Yiddish and other productions staged there in the past.

For a few years in the late '60s and early '70s, the Anderson functioned as both an avant-garde theater and a rock venue. A few notable shows:

Soft White Underbelly, precursors to Blue Oyster Cult, on February 2, 1968--a review is available here (scroll down near the bottom). Country Joe and the Fish and possibly the Jim Kwesin Jug Band were also on this bill, which was a benefit for Crawdaddy.

Moby Grape and Procol Harum, February 10 and 11, 1968. Check out the flyer for this show here.



Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company had their New York debut there on February 17, 1968; B.B. King was also on the bill. A vintage Village Voice review of the show can be read here. Some Elliott Landy photos of the band (onstage and backstage hanging out with the Fugs' Ed Sanders) can be viewed here. And here's the flyer.

On March 6, 1968, the theater hosted a benefit concert for war resisters featuring Country Joe and the Fish and the Fugs. Elliott Landy took some pics of the Fugs there (scroll down a ways)--I'm not sure if they're from this show, but considering the anti-Vietnam slides projected behind them it seems likely.

UPDATE 1/25/2013:  Ed Sanders discusses this show a bit in his '60s memoir Fug You (New York: Da Capo, 2011):  "On March 6...the Fugs, Country Joe and the Fish, Bob Fass, Paul Krassner, and Light Show creators Joshua and Pablo did a benefit for the War Resisters League at the famous Anderson Theater, home to many a Yiddish production, at 66 Second Avenue.  I wrote a new song for the concert, a country and western satire titled 'I Cried When I Came in Your Best Friend's Mouth.'  I could hear gasps from the front rows of the Anderson Theater as we sailed through the tune.  It was the only ditty in the history of the Fugs that any band member objected to, so I dropped it from the repertoire....Landy's photo of the Fugs on the Anderson Theater stage captured marvelously the grooviness of the stage ambience during those times."

The Yardbirds, with the Rich Kids and the Bagatelle, March 30, 1968--see the flyer here, and click here, here, and here for the saga behind the live recording of this show.     UPDATE 1/25/2013:  According to some Aerosmith fan sites and other sources, the Chain Reaction were also on this bill.




Traffic, New Riders of the Purple Sage, and the Grateful Dead, November 23, 1970.



San Francisco drag-hippie troupe the Cockettes made their New York debut at the Anderson in November, 1971. Their much-hyped revue didn't go over very well with the society types who'd turned out for opening night, but downtown's lower class of glitterati thought they were swell, enabling the show to run for three weeks. Required-viewing documentary The Cockettes includes some footage from the show, and further details can be gleaned from "Sweet" Pam Tent's Midnight at the Palace (New York: Alyson Books, 2004) and Joshua Gamson's The Fabulous Sylvester (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 2005). Click here for a picture of the flyer and a photo of the Anderson's facade and marquee from 1971.



Captain Beefheart, January 15, 1972--here's a vintage Crawdaddy article that mentions the show.

That's all I've been able to find thus far--but there may have been more rock & roll life left in the old gal yet.

When I read Roman Kozak's This Ain't No Disco: The Story of CBGB (Boston: Faber and Faber, 1988) back in 1988, I was intrigued to learn that Hilly Kristal had attempted to run a larger venue in an old Second Avenue theater from late '77 to early '78. This place was called, appropriately enough, CBGB THEATER--but while the book gave a fairly detailed account of the goings-on there, it neglected to mention precisely which old theater it was in, merely hinting that it was "located on Second Avenue only a few blocks from the club." Now by the late '80s, the Anderson had been vacant for years, and its marquee was stripped of all identifying signage. I had noticed the building, but back then I had no clue of its name or of its brief heyday as a sort of Fillmore East, Jr.--indeed, I only learned about the Anderson Theater's existence a couple years ago. Yet since this rotting hulk was the closest in proximity to CB's of all the old Second Avenue theaters, I figured it must have been the home of CBGB Theater. I have tried to confirm this, but to my frustration I've found no concrete evidence. The only reference I've found to suggest that I'm correct comes from an interview with Mayday's Steve Johnstad, in which he talks of rehearsing at the Anderson while renovations were underway for its reopening as the CBGB Theater. There's a detailed history of CBGB penned by Kristal himself on cbgb.com, but so far he's only gotten up to early '77. I wish I had more solid documentation to go by--but heck, I'm 99 and 44/100% sure about this, and that's enough to make me continue with confidence that the CBGB Theater did occupy the Anderson.

The CBGB Theater was just slightly ahead of its time, and circumstantially doomed--a good idea, poorly executed. By late 1977, the crowds at CBGB were getting out of hand. Sensing the growing popularity of the punk scene and hoping to maintain a major role in it, Kristal felt it was time to expand operations, and after a bit of searching he found a location at the nearby Anderson. Unfortunately, the building he bought was in a shabby state of repair. While decrepitude may have been part of the "charm" of the original club on the Bowery, it wouldn't fly in a near-2,000-capacity venue--certain standards of safety, modernization, and class had to be met in a place that large. But it cost a lot of money to bring the theater up to code, and though Kristal had some backing from the likes of Seymour Stein and a theatrical program company, he never quite managed to pull it off. Here are a few colorful anecdotes from This Ain't No Disco:

The CBGB Theater had a legal capacity of 1,734. It opened on a Tuesday night, December 27, 1977, with Talking Heads headlining, supported by the Shirts and the Tuff Darts. The next night it was the Dictators, the Dead Boys, and the Luna Band (formerly Orchestra Luna). Then Patti Smith headlined December 29, 30, and New Year's Eve. There were problems right from the beginning..."It was a great concept, but Hilly never really checked out the place," [says] Bill Shumaker. "It was in December, it was bitter cold, but the heating system never really worked. I never went down into the basement, but you could look down and it honestly looked like one of the rings in Dante's Inferno. And down there was the boiler. Everybody got serious colds. The sound guys were working with their gloves on because the place was never warm. Then, about six hours before opening, some old guy is up on the scaffolding. He started getting dizzy, and what he grabbed was this asbestos curtain release. The curtain weighed a ton, and down it came. Thank God it had a catch on it. It came down really fast, and then it stopped, so they could pull out the electric pianos and stuff, and then it came down again, leaving about three feet free from the lip of the stage. Nobody could do a sound check. And nobody had ever checked the mechanism for bringing it back up again. They had to get some kind of special gear. And the place didn't have enough power. The theater was set up for Yiddish theater. And that was about all the damned thing could take. So they had this noisy generator out on the street."....[Sound engineer] Norman Dunn: "It was an exercise in how many things could go wrong. In twenty-seven degree temperature you don't spray soundproofing under the balcony. It doesn't dry. At the first note it started falling down. The boiler room was under eleven feet of water because the water mains broke. One of the plumbers put in a weak pipe. The generator outside was running the electricity for everything and it was driving the neighbors crazy...There were threats, the police were there; but it would have cost $15,000 and Con Edison would have had to rip up the street to make things right. And this thing was opened on a shoestring. So every time the lights would go full blast, the sound would die to a whisper and then slowly the volume would come back up. There were other things. The chandelier hadn't been cleaned in eighteen years and the mixing board was right underneath it. Every bass note I was being rained on by eighteen years of soot and grime."

Joel Webber is even more graphic, though he does exaggerate for effect: "The place was disgusting. It made the CBGB club look like the Rainbow Room. We were talking about eighty years' worth of dirt. I mean there was popcorn left over from the last performance of the Yiddish theater in 1925...They did manage to clean up the entryway, and made it look like a subway station. They also had a little store where they sold punk paraphernalia. I bought my first skinny tie there."

This cool vintage article from a Cleveland newspaper reports on the earliest shows at the venue--noting with some annoyance that it "boasted $7.50 admissions, spotty central heating, and layers of dust and decrepitude dating back who knows how long (I don't even want to talk about the '"bar")." The Talking Heads, Tuff Darts, Luna, and the Shirts opened the place on December 27, 1977, followed by the Dead Boys and the Dictators the following night. The Patti Smith Group, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, the Erasers, and Mars did three-night stand culminating on New Year's Eve. The second night included a guest appearance by Bruce Springsteen, joining the PSG on "Because the Night." Even more notable was the FDNY's attempt to shut the place down shortly afterwards; Patti reportedly managed to sweet-talk the Marshals into letting the band finish their set, but the incident still made the front page of the NY Post. Here's another terrific vintage review on opening week from the NME.

More from This Ain't No Disco: After the Patti Smith dates the Theater closed. The place was briefly used as a rock and roll flea market and there was a show with the Jam the following March [March 31, 1978], when Mick Jagger showed up...There were obvious physical problems with the Theater, and neighbors on residential Second Avenue were not happy with it or its generator, but there were also other theories and explanations for [its] quick demise. "I think what happened was economic," says Robert Christgau. "I think basically Hilly got outbid when he tried to start that place...Ron Delsener just creamed him. Delsener said this upstart needs a lesson and I'm going to give it to him. And he started hiring all of Hilly's best bands, filled his now defunct hall [the Palladium] with them, and said, 'Fuck you, Hilly. This is my bailiwick."

Kristal nearly lost his shirt, but remained philosophical about the Theater's failure: It cost me about $150,000 or $160,000 loss for everying...But suppose I didn't go into the Theater? Maybe at that time it was a mistake to do it underfinanced, I might have been a little bit too soon, but if I had the money I might have done it. Some say it may have been better to start another CBGB in L.A. or London. People have suggested all those things, but you have to run a new enterprise and at least it was easy for me to run it from here. You have to have a certain perspective on how you want it run.

I'm not sure how active the building was in the '80s. I found a reference to an Anderson Theater Gallery, at which Vincent Gallo had an exhibition in 1983--but for all I know this could be a completely different location. By the time the building entered my '80s consciousness it appeared to be abandoned, and it was torn down sometime in the mid-to-late-'90s. Apartment buildings now occupy the space fronting 4th Street where the theater was. I'm not sure if the lobby portion/facade was preserved, but at any rate the 66 Second Avenue address is still in use. The site is currently home to a branch of Cartridge World, an ink cartridge refilling service.


UPDATE 12/19/2010:  Just found this cool photo of the Anderson, via templeoftheblacksun.  I also recently saw some tidbits of Anderson history on the cinematreasures.org page for the Academy of Music.




UPDATE 5/30/2011:  Oooh, cinematreasures.org has a new look!  Here's their page on the Anderson Theater, which gives more insight into its pre-rock and roll period.  Apparently it was opened in 1926 as the Public Theatre.  It mainly presented Yiddish productions until 1953, when it was renamed the Antillas and operated as a Spanish-language movie house.  Then in 1957 it finally received the Anderson moniker, in honor of theatrical agent Phyllis Anderson.  Also check out this 1977 Billboard article on the CBGB Theatre.

UPDATE 1/25/2013:  For the heck of it I just did a search for some Billboard articles on the Anderson, and found a review for the Eric Burdon show (3/30/68 issue), a couple of mentions about the theater's availability (7/25/70 and 10/2/71 issues), and this ad for Pablo's Lights (3/2/68 issue).




Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Gones!ville

WOWSVILLE RECORD STORE--125 Second Avenue b/w 7th St. & St. Marks Place. For an all-too-brief period at the turn of this century, Wowsville--or "Wows!ville" as it was spelled on its front sign, business cards, and pink (later purple) shopping bags--was thee quintessential East Village rock & roll record shop. Specializing in punk, garage, rockabilly, soul, and all other manner of vintage-to-current coolness, the store was a tiny hot-pink hole-in-the-wall packed to the rafters with vinyl, CDs, rock tchotchkes, posters, T-shirts, 'zines, a giant Rat Fink statue, and a gallery of Dee Dee Ramone paintings and classic Gruen/Bayley/Childers/Rock photos.


The proprietors were a bespectacled Spanish couple, Alberto and Sonia Camarasa--two of the friendliest rock & roll freaks you were ever likely to meet. They were always quick with a smile, a hug, a candid behind-the-scenes anecdote, and recommendations for the best shows/DJ nights in town and the latest (or oldest!) records you couldn't afford not to buy. With their European connections, they had a good line on imports, particularly Spanish labels like Munster. Some complained that they overpriced certain items, but I never found that to be the case--other stores were far more outrageous (Bleecker Bob's, anyone?), and you haven't really overpaid for records until you've shopped for them in Canada. Granted, Wows!ville wasn't the most modern or professional of retail operations. They never got around to accepting credit cards, didn't seem to have a computerized inventory system, and might be inclined to ask a regular customer to mind the shop for a minute if they needed to make a quick run to the nearest deli. But Wows!ville had more heart, soul, personality, and passion than most other downtown hipster emporia put together. Surly, High Fidelity-style attitude? Not here, bud--unless you acted like an asshole first.

About a year after I moved to Toronto, my mother sent me a clipping from Newsday about the Camarasas, dated July 24, 2002. Here's an excerpt from the article, written by Marc Ferris:

Totally Devoted to the Ramones: Spanish Couple from Elmhurst hosts fans of band at East Village Store.
Sonia Camarasa practically lives for the Ramones. She and her husband, Alberto, both from Spain, own a small East Village record store that has become a gathering spot for the band's fans. And her Ramones-infused collection of memorabilia is taking over their apartment in Elmhurst. She recently helped with the campaign to name a stretch of East 2nd Street in Manhattan after Joey Ramone. And sometimes, when she feels depressed, she even heads to Forest Hills High School and other scenes from the band's past. "If I'm not their biggest fan, then I'm really close," Sonia, 27, said. The Camarasas, fans of the band since their teen years, are recent emigres who came to the city to bask in the afterglow of 1970s New York punk rock. "That's why we're here," Alberto, 29, said...Three years ago, the day after getting married in Spain, the Camarasas opened their emporium. The Second Avenue chocolate shop run by the Queens branch of Sonia's family had become a burden when the couple opened Wows!ville, a spartan space named after an obscure 1950s tune and specializing in vinyl by post-World War II garage bands. [Are there any other kind? -Ed.] Alberto takes care of the enterprise's day-to-day operations, freeing Sonia to do her stained glass sculptures and write songs on guitar for her fledgling band. The display window has clay figures of the Ramones carved by an Italian fan, a Joey Ramone bobblehead doll and a handwritten sign commemorating Dee Dee Ramone as "King Fun-King Forever." Ramones t-shirts, videos, albums and general kitsch make up a fourth of the store's revenue. The business breaks even because rent is below market rate and making money is not the couple's primary goal, they said. "It's the music that we love, and it all came from New York," Alberto said.

Wows!ville was a veritable rock & roll rec room. You could hang out for hours both shopping and shooting the shit, and occasionally you could catch a fun in-store show. You could discover a new band, or be discovered, as was the case with the Little Killers. Here's an excerpt from an interview they did with Splendidezine.com.

Andy Maltz: Yeah, in New York there's a record store called Wowsville, which is a place you go and hang out. If you stay there for half an hour, you'll see five people you know. So Tim, who runs Crypt, was there the day before Thanksgiving. A bunch of people were hanging out listening to records. So, Dave, who was in a band called the Tie Reds, he put our recording on, which was, at that point, new. We had just finished it. Tim heard it and really liked it. So he was just like, at the end, he was like...
Sara Nelson: "Play it again."
Andy Maltz: "Play it again." He played it again three times and left with it.
Splendid: So were you there at the time? Or did you hear about it later?
Andy Maltz: No, no, no. I wasn't there. I got a phone message from Alberto, who owns Wowsville. Alberto's from Spain. He's very excitable. And he was like, "Andy, Andy, Andy, someone wants to put out the record." And I didn't know who he was talking about. I didn't want to get my hopes up about it. But I knew that Tim had come by there, so in the best case scenario, it would be him, and it was. It was very much a case of being in the right place at the right time
.

Starting in 2002, the party was extended after hours at Wowsville-a-Go-Go, a weekly Friday-night dance bash held at the faux-tiki Lei Lounge in the basement of Niagara at Avenue A & E. 7th Street. DJs El Rey del Wowsville (Alberto's nom de spin), Dos Platos, and other rotating guests spun the platters that splattered, while local garageniks and go-go gals shook their moneymakers with abandon, archaic cabaret laws be damned. It was a cool scene for a while, reminiscent of the old Green Door parties--until the frat boy types started coming around. But it had staying power, and can still be enjoyed today, albeit at a different bar. Here's a description taken from "mah fren'" Blair's concert calendar:

Le Disquaire Bazooka Joe spins the most savage and greasy mid 50's- late 60's dancefloor records ever made! Expect a super stupid set of soul stomp monsters, garage pounders, greazy r'n'b, honkin' instros, crazy calypsos, kookie limbos, manicmambos, fucked up freakbeat, wild watusis, dink music, fink music, Monk music, junk music, soaking wet reverb, screaming organs, stupid drums, wailing saxes, blaring horns, shakin' maracas, and anything Diddley-fied! Wows!ville A Go Go takes place every last Friday at the Motor City bar (Ludlow between Rivington and Delancey in Manhattan's Lower East Side)! NO COVER and plenty of room to twist, grind, rock and burn...table tops count!!!

Unfortunately, Alberto can no longer spin at the night he established--and neither can he ever unlock the hot-pink portals of Wowsville again. For reasons I won't go into here, Alberto and Sonia had to move back to Spain--and thus the shop that had so quickly become a beloved New York institution closed in December, 2004. There was a final farewell party at Siberia--its announcement was as follows:

A bittersweet Rock n Roll Bash! DOT DASH PRESENTS Wowsville Records going away party. Thurs December 2: THE LITTLE KILLERS, BLACK LIPS, SHOP FRONTS, DC SNIPERS. At Siberia – 356 W. 40th Street at 9th Avenue, Doors 8:30PM. Cover TBA.
This show is a send off for NYCs ONLY punk rock record store, Wowsville Records on 125 2nd Avenue. Alberto Camarasa and his wife Sonia opened the store 5 years ago this December. The couple moved from Spain and knew no one; in 5 years time, the store became THE punk/garage record store, hangout, meeting spot, make shift happy hour in NYC.
Wowsville was also a shrine to some of NYCs most important bands, especially THE RAMONES – rare vinyl, memorabilia, posters, videos and, of course the photos. The store had an amazing collection of punk photos for sale by Roberta Bayley, Godlis and others. NYC artist and scene-hopper Mark Khostabi painted a recent series honoring his old haunts in the East Village– he decided to include Wowsville in a painting because he felt it too has become a landmark. And Lux Interior and Poison Ivy from the Cramps dropped by their last time in town to say hi and spend some money!
Alberto is also a tireless promoter of bands that he loves – go into his store around the time of a release by a band in his favor and you'd hear it ALL WEEK LONG –he would make people buy new releases by such bands as BLACK LIPS, LITTLE KILLERS, TYRADES, THE SPITS and THE LIDS among many many others. Also, when many of these bands were on tour, they would always make sure to pay a visit. This was the meeting place for the underground punk and garage scene both locally and nationally and it will be sorely missed!

[Just as an aside--another celebrity customer of note was Benicio Del Toro; Alberto proudly showed me his autographed photo the day after he'd dropped a couple hundred there.]

Some memorial linkage:

The never-fully-constructed Wowsville homepage is still up.

Descriptions/reviews of the store are available here, here, here, and here (yes, I wrote the brief one signed "D.C.").

Scroll about two-thirds down on this page to see a pic of Alberto quaffing a beer with a member of the Vapids.

And here's a "polaprint" of Wowsville's shopfront by Sophie Kim.


I'm told a nail salon now occupies the storefront. Glamourous, maybe. But I'd prefer a more "Dolls at Gem Spa" type of glam in this part of town.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Fill no mo'.

I think I'll hang around the East Village for a spell. And though I said I'd focus mainly on the not-too-obvious landmarks of NYC rock lore, something compels me to cover this one--with emphasis on its less familiar incarnation.

THE VILLAGE THEATER/FILLMORE EAST/THE SAINT--105 Second Avenue between 6th and 7th Streets. I haven't been able to nail down a precise history of the site's original embodiment as the Commodore Theater, but its page at cinematreasures.org comes mighty close. Apparently dating from 1926 and decorated in the Adamesque style, the Commodore was likely purpose-built as a combination legitimate theater and movie house. As befitting its Jewish Rialto address, it frequently hosted Yiddish productions. It was also occasionally used as a meeting hall for leftist groups in the '30s and '40s. At some undetermined point it was taken over by Loew's and live theater took a back seat to MGM films. At yet another undetermined point--presumably the early '60s--the Commodore became the Village Theater. [I've submitted a query to cinematreasures.org about the approximate dates for these transitions.]

Managed by Ben Barenholtz (who later operated the Elgin, a revival/art/midnight movie house at 175 Eighth Avenue--which is now the Joyce, a dance performance space), the Village Theater functioned as "a sort of bargain-basement counterculture Carnegie Hall," according to this article attributed to J. Hoberman. It must have still featured some Yiddish productions during this period; a 1966 photo of Timothy Leary standing outside the theater shows a "Yiddish-American Vaudeville and Films" sign hanging under the marquee. But many of its events were designed to appeal to the area's growing population of hepcats, hipsters, and hippies. A random sampling of notable performers follows:






Lenny Bruce--November 29-30, 1963, and March 27-28, 1964, days before his bust at the Cafe au Go Go. Another gig was planned for November 25-27 that year but it got cancelled.

John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman shared a bill during December, 1966.

Timothy Leary staged a series of lectures/"psychedelic celebrations" beginning in September, 1966. Jackie Cassen and Rudi Stern provided the light shows; Stern gives an account of his experiences here. Click here for a review of one of these events, "An Evening With God," held on May 13, 1967. And here's a photo of Leary, Allen Ginsberg and Ralph Metzer praying before a 10-foot plaster Buddha in preparation for another psych fest.

On page 221 of The Crawdaddy! Book (Milwaukee: Hal Leonard, 2002) there's a reprint of an ad for a concert by Chuck Berry "and his original band" on April 26, 1967.





Supposedly there was a "Cosmic Love-In" on May 3, 1967 or thereabouts, but I have no idea who played at it.

UPDATE 1/24/2013:  Here's a poster for the event, which was recently shared on the Fillmore East Facebook group by the ever-lusty Harold Black.  The New Yorker's website has an abstract for an article about it, as published in the May 13, 1967 issue.




Sally Eaton, a Hair cast member, remembers a fashion show she modeled in at the theater during May, 1967, in this 1970 Astrology Today article.

WOR-FM held its first anniversary concert there on June 11, 1967, with Janis Ian, the Blues Project, Richie Havens, the Chambers Brothers, Jeremy and the Satyrs, and the Doors, all emceed by WOR jocks like Rosko, Murray the K, and Scott Muni. The Doors played the theater again on September 9, 1967.

[UPDATE 6/1/2010: Richard Goldstein's "Pop Eye" column in the June 22, 1967 issue of the Village Voice features a review of this event. And a couple years ago, Tim at Stupefaction put up an image of the poster.]

The "Bread For Heads" Festival, a legal defense benefit for busted marijuana smokers, took place on June 28, 1967. Included on the bill were Allen Ginsberg, The Mothers of Invention, Tim Buckley, the Fugs, and in perhaps their only Manhattan appearance ever, the Left Banke. On the Leftbankism yahoogroup, Banke bassist Tom Finn recalled that this gig was probably set up by their stage pianist Emmett Lake, who by day worked as music editor for the East Village Other. Singer Steve Martin took issue with the retinal-searing projections of the Joshua Light Show, exhorting them to "turn those f---in' lights off, we're not a psychedelic band!" The Banke borrowed the Mothers' gear and left theirs in the van outside, only to find it all stolen afterwards.



UPDATE 7/20/2006: A while back a reader named Terry K. generously sent me a picture of an ad for another "Bread For Heads" gig. To the best of my psychedelic-blobby-lettering reading ability, this one took place on June 25, and included Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsburg, the Group Image, and the Northern Lights, among others.




The Who, July 8, 1967 with the Blues Project and Richie Havens, and November 25-26, 1967, again with Havens; the poster is available here. This guy offers some memories and a photo from one of those gigs (scroll down almost to the bottom of the page).

Vanilla Fudge played the Village Theater three times in '67. On July 22 they shared the bill with the Byrds and the Seeds--it could have been an extremely avian event had the Fudge not recently changed their name from the Pigeons. On September 2 they and the Illusion opened for Mitch Ryder, and on November 3 the Yardbirds were the openers (part of an apparent weeklong engagement for the 'birds, according to the Chromeoxide.com site--November 3-8).



Speaking of the Yardbirds, they had previously played the Village Theater on August 25, 1967, on a bill with the Youngbloods and Jake Holmes. Page and co. heard Holmes perform "Dazed and Confused" that night, which eventually "Led" to an act of "Page-iarism." (Holmes had also played the theater earlier that month on August 5, with Janis Ian, the Association, and Chrysalis.)

Cream, September 23 and 30, 1967. The 9/23 gig was shared with Moby Grape, who in turn headlined the place on November 11, 23 and; 24 later that year.

Blood, Sweat and Tears debuted at the Village Theater as openers for James Cotton--not sure of the date but I think it was in October, 1967.

Procol Harum, October 28, 1967.

The Grateful Dead, December 26-27, 1967.

Shortly afterwards came Bill Graham and the Fillmore East, about which so much has already been said that I'll mainly point you to other sources for more info:


  • Glatt, John. Rage and Roll: Bill Graham and the Selling of Rock (New York: Carol, 1993).
  • Graham, Bill and Robert Greenfield. Bill Graham Presents: My Life Inside Rock and Out (New York: Doubleday, 1992). There's also a 2004 edition by Da Capo Press.
  • Kostelanetz, Richard (text) and Raeanne Rubenstein (photos). The Fillmore East: Recollections of Rock Theater (New York: Schirmer, 1996).
  • Rothschild, Amalie R. and Ruth Ellen Gruber. Live at the Fillmore East: A Photographic Memoir (New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 2000).
  • The Fillmore East Preservation Society (lots of info, including a comprehensive list of shows).
  • Wolfgang's Vault (all manner of memorabilia from the Fillmores West and East).
  • Fillmore East Concert Journals.
  • Fillmore East Show List

Still, I can't resist inserting some anecdotes from my library. Here's one from Joel Lobenthal's Radical Rags: Fashions of the Sixties (New York: Abbeville, 1990):

In the late '60s, the rock hall replaced the discotheque as as the prime area for innovative fashion display. "In fashion terms a Fillmore East opening night deserves as much coverage as the Philharmonic Galanosed Galas," claimed the Village Voice shortly after the rock auditorium opened in March 1968. "It's a scene-making pageant whether they're seeing Lenny at Lincoln Center or Jimi at the Fillmore." In 1968, Bill Graham...tied together the pageantry in the audience with the fireworks on stage when he organized a mini fashion happening during an interval in the evening's mixed bill. Unheralded, Barbara Mott, wife of designer Michael Mott, zoomed up the center aisle of the rock palace on an enormous Harley Davidson. Dressed in Mott's black leather bra top and miniskirt pegged with hobnail studs, she tore up a ramp to the stage and parked her vehicle to the accompaniment of a cannonade of cheers from the Fillmore's audience.

And from Perry and Glinert's Fodor's Rock and Roll Traveler USA (New York: Fodor's, 1996): Graham had to contend with the dynamics of a neighborhood even seamier than it is now. The Hells Angels, to whom an entrance fee was an alien concept, had their New York headquarters around the corner, while anarchic underground political groups like the Motherfuckers tried to use the place as a launching pad for changing the world. The MC5, who rolled into the Fillmore advertised as the "people's revolutionary band," had all their gear ripped off. Graham recalled the incident with an ironic chuckle in his autobiography: "The people's band had all their equipment stolen. By the other people, I guess." Other mishaps included Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones being turned away from his own gig in May 1969 by a security-conscious steward--Jones threatened to bring gargantuan manager Peter Grant's wrath down on the guy's head--and the firebombing of a grocery store next door during a packed Who concert. As the blaze threatened to spread, an undercover cop in full hippie gear rushed onto the stage to try to clear the building; not aware that there was a fire or that the stage crasher was a cop, Pete Townshend knocked him off the stage with a well-aimed kick to the nads. Graham eventually got to the mike and organized a peaceful exit as the Who slunk out the side door. The next day Townshend and Roger Daltrey, who had also shown some tasty brawling skills, gave themselves up to the police. [Eventually] Graham--frustrated by bands who found they could make as much money by playing one night at Madison Square Garden as from several shows [at the Fillmore]--surprised the rock world by closing the Fillmore East on June 2, 1971, a few days before he also closed the Fillmore West. For the final show, the Allmans were back, accompanied by the J.Geils Band, the Beach Boys, and Albert King.

[An interesting factoid that I didn't know until I was researching the Electric Circus post--for a while the East Village Other had its offices in a loft at the Fillmore, provided gratis by Graham. This sweet deal didn't last forever, though. After the Circus was bombed, an EVO article implied that this act was in protest of the club's high admission fees, and further suggested that someone should do the same at the Fillmore East since its ticket prices were just as expensive. Graham promptly told the paper's editors to get the hell out of his building.]



[UPDATE 9/28/2007: A while back, Ben Barenholtz himself left a comment setting a few things straight--including the fact that it was he who had donated the office space to the EVO. Read it!]



Apparently there were sporadic attempts to keep the theater going as a live music venue called the Village East in the early '70s, but none were successful. The building was vacant for most of the decade, but on September 20, 1980, it was reopened as the Saint, owned by Bruce Mailman--perhaps thee most highly esteemed gay dance club of all time. Gone were the old theater's seats, stage, LSD, and freak-out rock; in their place were high-tech astronomical fantasy decor (check out these pics), poppers/coke/ecstasy, and throbbing '80s disco. From Brewster and Broughton's Last Night A D.J. Saved My Life (New York: Grove, 1999):

$4.2 million was spent in transforming what had been the revered rock venue the Fillmore East into a huge club, purpose-built for its newly liberated gay constituency. Within three weeks of its opening, 3,000 men had paid $250 to become members...The Saint was the most spectacular club anyone in New York had seen. You walked through a pair of gleaming stainless steel doors through to a massive area with bars, banquettes and cushioned chairs. Upstairs was the vast 5,000 square foot dancefloor, and above this the club's famous dome. Imagine a hemisphere seventy-six feet across made of aluminum and theatrical scrim. Lit from inside it appeared solid, but when illuminated from above it became formless clouds of psychedelic light. In the center of the dancefloor was a planetarium projector, and when the moment was right this would cast the image of the night sky onto the darkened dome.

It was the hottest dance club in town for a few years, and an important focal point for the gay community. From Terry Miller's Greenwich Village and How It Got That Way (New York: Crown, 1990):

As the AIDS epidemic began its relentless decimation...the Saint made its facilities available for benefits for organizations intent on providing help that the government would not offer. "The Saint reflected what was happening to the gay community," Mailman recalled. "Here's a group that had no established social consciousness, and it organized itself instantly to deal with a nightmare. Like that community, the Saint began with one purpose, but shifted to another. I thought it had to be done." Though large amounts of money were raised, attendance began to decline. In October 1985 the club opened to nonmembers, and about a year later to its first non-gay crowd. "In the end, we stopped because I was just burned out," Mailman commented," and there was no one else to do it." News of the Saint's impending closing [spread] like word of a death in the family...[At the final fifty-hour party] songwriter Paul Jabara came to say good-bye and to sing his hit tune, "Last Dance." Disco diva Thelma Houston came by as well to belt out her torchy hit, "Don't Leave Me This Way." But they did leave, and in the early morning of May 2, 1988, the Saint closed its doors. Within days, those doors were spray-painted with words of memory, words of hope for a dark night: "Hold on to my love--J. Ruffin."

Attempts were made to turn the Saint into a live venue but they never quite panned out (ISTR announcements for a Public Enemy show ca. late '89 or early '90 that was either cancelled or moved to another club, possibly the World). After it finally closed for good, the building stood dormant for several years. There was talk of turning it into a multiplex, and supposedly one local businessman-on-a-mission attempted to get funding to restore it as Fillmore-like auditorium--but neither scenario came to pass. The theater portion of the building was demolished in the mid-'90s; in its place now stands the Hudson East, a luxury rental apartment building with a plaque near its 225 E. 6th St. entrance explaining what had previously been there. The lobby section and its facade still exist, however, and currently house a branch of the Emigrant Savings Bank. There's supposed to be a display of Fillmore East memorabilia inside the bank, including photos by "unofficial house photographer" Amalie Rothschild--I'll have to scope it out on my next visit this coming August.






UPDATE 5/6/2010: A couple months ago EV Grieve did a nice post on the Loew's Commodore, including pics of the tribute collages that now hang in the Emigrant Bank branch. There is a Fillmore East Archives group on facebook. And here are some Village Theater ads recently unearthed by a long-time Internet pal of mine, the eagle-eyed Rob B.








UPDATE 5/23/2010: Why I failed to learn about or mention the important role that Gary Kurfirst played in all of this until just now is a mystery for the ages. And oh my, were there actually Wilson Pickett and Carla Thomas/Otis Redding shows here, and when did they happen?

UPDATE 5/31/2010: I've found a few items pertaining to the Village Theater in the Billboard Google archives.
  • From the November 5, 1965 issue: "Donovan will make his first concert appearance in the U.S. on November 19 at the Village Theater. Harold Leventhal is presenting."
  • The March 17, 1967 issue has a review for a concert with the Ornette Coleman Trio and the Philadelphia Woodwind Quintet.
  • From the May 20, 1967 issue: "The Herbie Mann Orchestra will do excerpts from its Atlantic album, 'Impressions of the Middle East,' at the Village Theater on June 3."
  • From the June 10, 1967 issue: "[The Doors] will perform at a June 11 concert at the Village Theater with Janis Ian and will work the Scene for three weeks following the concert."
  • From the September 16, 1967 issue: "The Glories played the Village Theater on Wednesday (6), with the Vibrations and Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs."
  • From the October 7, 1967 issue: "Lastest showcase for pop talent will be the Village Theater. Starting October 11, and continuing each Wednesday evening, the theater will hold a 'Weekly Freakly,' featuring local Lower East Side talent and some top recording acts. Admission charge will be $1. The acts will not be announced in advance.
  • From the November 13, 1967 issue: "Chuck Berry will make his New York concert debut Nov. 24 at the Village Theater." The following week's issue clarified that this wasn't his debut in the area, but rather his first full-length concert in town. This makes me wonder if I've got the correct date for the Berry concert mentioned above, even with the existence of that ad.
  • From the November 25, 1967 issue: "Buck Owens is not a hippie, though obviously some hippies are country music fans, but he is a trouper and he performed a quality show November 12 at the Village Theater, a site that has been featuring rock acts on a weekly basis. It was undoubtedly an experience for both entertainer and the entertained, as well as an experiment by the promoters to see how well country would go in the Village. It didn't go all that well; only 800 showed up...also on the show included Bobby Austin, Wynn Stewart and Tommy Collins."
  • The January 27, 1968 issue has an ad for the lightshow services of Pablo, who listed "rock shows at the Village Theater" among his credits.
  • From the February 10, 1968 issue: "Pearls Before Swine, ESP-DISK recording artists, play the Village Theater Feb. 23 and 24."
  • The April 6, 1968 issue has an ad for Herbie Mann's "The Wailing Dervishes" album, recorded live at the Village Theater, presumably at the June 3, 1967 show.]
[UPDATE 5/31/2010: More on that June 3, 1967 Herbie Mann show...according to an ad and a mention in the "Scenes" column of the April 27, 1967 issue of the Village Voice, "A schmaltzy Arabian bazaar will be set up in the big lobby to lend desert sights and sounds. Halvah, Turkish coffee, incense, dates, and a belly dancer will further atomize the sand-dune scene."]

[UPDATE 6/4/2010: I posted a whole bunch of '67 Village Theater ads here.]

[UPDATE 6/25/2010: Here are some 1969 Fillmore East ads.]

[UPDATE 12/19/2010: I revisited cinematreasures.org's page on Loew's Commodore today, and found that much more information has been added since I was last there.  Of particular note: lots of gaps are filled in about the dates when the building's various transitions occurred; some light is shed on the "New Fillmore East" and "Village East" phases in the early '70s; and several brave urban explorers discuss the times they ventured into the building during its pre- and post-Saint periods of abandonment.  Also, here are some late '60s and early '70s Fillmore East ads from the Village Voice.


UPDATE 11/14/2011: Please see the improved and revised 1967 Village Theater ads post here.

UPDATE 3/16/2012:  Please see the improved and revised 1969 Fillmore East ads post here.


UPDATE 1/24/2013:  It sat on my "to read" pile for over a year but I finally got around to Ed Sander's fantastic Fug You (New York: Da Capo, 2011).  He mentions playing at the Bread for Heads benefit on June 28, 1967, and included a small reproduction of the poster.  I found a photo of the ad not too long ago on eBay, taken from the July 1-15, 1967 issue of the East Village Other.



A few pages later, Sanders wrote about another event which I hadn't heard about before: "The Community Breast concert at the Village Theater on Second Avenue on August 16 raised $1,000 for a Lower East Side version of the Digger's San Francisco Free Store.  The Fugs performed, as did Tiny Tim, Judy Collins, Ritchie Havens, Paul Krassner, Hugh Romney (soon to become Wavy Gravy), and Timothy Leary's sitarist, Peter Walker."  Again, a small repro of the poster is included in the book, but here's a photo of it from the Oakland Museum's website.





UPDATE 11/27/2014:  Always required reading around these parts no matter what the topic, Binky Philips' most recent Huffington Post piece (published 11/14/2014) was on the Who's first appearance at the Village Theater. And on October 29, 2014, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation dedicated a plaque on the former Fillmore East facade. Coverage of this event is available at the Villager, Bedford + Bowery, and EV Grieve, and here is the full video of the ceremony.





UPDATE 12/8/2014:  Marky Ramone has a book coming out next month. As part of the advance publicity, Bedford + Bowery did a cool post on his favorite East Village clubs and venues of yore, including the Fillmore East. There's also a new book called Live at the Fillmore East and West by John Glatt; check out this NY Post article on it. And enjoy this Bowery Boogie post on the F.E. from 2012 which I somehow missed until now.