Friday, April 29, 2005

Opening salvo

When I visit a city with a great rock & roll past (and ideally, a present and a future), rock & roll sightseeing usually takes up more of my itinerary than traditional touristy trappings. It often occupies my armchair traveling as well, and it always informs long walks through my hometown, New York. Books like Art Fein's L.A. Musical History Tour, Joel Selvin's San Francisco: The Musical History Tour, Kreature Comforts Lowlife Guide to Memphis, Tony Bacon's London Live, John Platt's London's Rock Routes, and Marcus Gray's London's Rock Landmarks have aided my travels--but I've yet to find a book that thoroughly documents the rock & roll sites of New York. There are decent sections on NYC in the few published rock & roll tour guides with nationwide coverage (A. M. Nolan's Rock & Roll Road Trip, Dave Walker's American Rock & Roll Tour, Fodor's Rock & Roll Traveler USA), but none of them go into the kind of detail I crave. And my search for a website on this topic has proved elusive.

I've sometimes thought of taking up the gauntlet and writing such a book myself, but I'm not a professional writer or researcher, and I doubt there's much of a market for this kind of book anyway. However, for years I've been accumulating tidbits of info on this field, and lately I've felt the need to coalesce my disparate chicken-scratch notes into some kind of cohesive form, if only to channel my perpetual homesickness for NYC (I'm currently a resident of Toronto) into a productive pursuit. Hence, I'm hopping onto the blog bandwagon. [And perhaps someday I'll build this into a more organized database/website.]

I'm neither an authority nor a well-connected scenester--I'm just a lone, lowly peon fan. And since I'm not in the vicinity of the NYPL, I can't do all that much fact-checking or microfilmed periodical-perusing. But I'm going to attempt to be as thorough and accurate as possible, within the parameters of my own interests/idiosyncrasies/knowledge base. Ideally I want to cover the full gamut of NYC's rich rock & roll landscape, from the five boroughs to some environs beyond in the tri-state area, and from the '50s to the present. Yet since my own fave periods of rock & roll largely happened pre-1980 (pre-1970 in most cases!), the emphasis will probably be on historical sites, oftentimes of the vanished variety. Then again, as I was born post-1970, whatever personal reminiscences I can offer would have occurred from the '80s to the present--obviously not thee greatest era (sigh), but one in which I managed to have a plethora of cool rock & roll experiences nonetheless. And I don't intend to go into much detail about obvious joints like CB's or Max's, as they've already been well-documented elsewhere--I'd rather focus on the near-forgotten, under-the-radar sites.

My amateur research is ongoing, culled from such sources as books, 'zine/newspaper articles, liner notes, various websites/listservs, and my own scatterbrained memories. I'll make every attempt to give credit where credit is due, and point out rumors and hearsay where applicable. But I doubt I could ever achieve the level of comprehensiveness I'm aiming for all on my own. No matter what I'm interested in, there are always a slew of folks who are ten times more obsessive/passionate/knowledgeable about it than I ever could be. So I'll gladly take whatever info I can get from the general public, especially you "I was there" types. I welcome any and all comments, questions, criticisms, corrections, additions, suggestions, factoids or anecdotes.

Here's my first entry--a place dear to my heart, though seemingly forgotten these days 'cause I never see it mentioned anywhere:

THE ACADEMY--234 W. 43rd Street between 7th and 8th Avenues. In the mid-1990s (ca. '92-97) the Academy picked up where the Ritz left off as one of the best venues in town for well-known (albeit not mega-star) touring bands. I love it when disused theaters and ballrooms get a new lease on life as rock & roll halls, and this establishment, with its Times Square locale, dusty chandelier, chipped plaster moldings, and shab-fab balcony, echoed with the lullaby of old Broadway's faded grandeur/grind-eur. Most events were general admission, so one could venture from the pit to the balcony as one pleased for good sightlines or feet relief--always a plus. I saw some memorable shows there, including the Kinks, Ray Davies' first solo outing, the Go-Gos, the Cramps, and one of the Ramones' numerous farewell gigs. [While I was approaching the venue shortly before this show, Johnny Ramone exited a porn video shop down the street and, not looking where he was going, bumped right into me--one of my very few brushes with greatness.]

Years ago I read an article that stated the Academy's original name; unfortunately I can't recall exactly which name was revealed, but I do know it was either the Lyric (built in 1903) or the Apollo (built in 1920). Both were former legitimate theaters that later operated as classic Times Square grindhouses (see Sleazoid Express by Bill Landis and Michelle Clifford for evocative descriptions of their movie-theater incarnations). They were torn down in the late '90s to make way for the massive Ford Center for the Performing Arts (213 W. 42nd Street), which sensitively incorporated both the Lyric's facade and many interior appointments from the Apollo.

UPDATE 6/8/2005: Seems the correct original name was the Apollo and it actually dated back to 1910--I knew I'd learn the truth someday. Bless the fine folks at for solving the mystery.