Wednesday, June 29, 2005

An Inevitable Circus begs a Question of Temperature

In case you didn't recognize it, the title of this blog was lifted from a line in my favorite Velvet Underground song, "Sunday Morning." The liner notes to the Peel Slowly and See box explain its meaning far better than I can:

"Sunday Morning" opens the album with the deceptive surface calm of a tingling celeste played by Cale (the instrument was just lying around the studio) and the limpid hum of his overdubbed viola. In fact, it's a paranoiac morning-after blues, "a song about how you feel when you've been up all Saturday night," according to Morrison, "and you're crawling home while people are going to church. The sun is up and you're like Dracula, hiding your eyes."..."It's pretty paranoid," Reed admits. "My friend Delmore [Schwartz] once said, 'Even paranoids have enemies.' The song is kind of about that: 'Watch out, the world's behind you.' Possibly for real."

I usually felt more pleased than paranoid when going home after a long night out in NYC--but being a small Caucasian female, and most often a dateless one at that, I was constantly aware of the need to watch my back. The song eloquently encapsulates this nightlife's/morning after-life's blend of euphoria and foreboding. As such, now we'll discuss a nightspot that the VU made their own, only to have it snatched out from under(ground) them.

THE DOM/STANLEY'S/BALLOON FARM/ELECTRIC CIRCUS--23 St. Marks Place b/w 2nd and 3rd Avenues. Although the official address for these clubs is usually given as 23 St. Marks, they were housed in a row of affiliated buildings at 19-25 St. Marks--and the row had a long, convoluted history well before it was a gleam in Andy Warhol's eye. Here's an excerpt from a November 6, 1998 New York Times "Streetscapes" column by Christopher Gray entitled "19-25 St. Marks Place: The Eclectic Life of a Row of East Village Houses":

In 1833 the developer Thomas E. Davis built three neo-Federal houses at 19, 21 and 23 St. Marks Place...[I]n 1870 the Arion Society, a German singing and musical club, bought 19 and 21 St. Marks Place, and their architects, Schulze and Schoen, added a mansard roof and additional door trim. In 1874, The New York Times reported that at the society's annual carnival, which included a musical skit lampooning William Marcy (Boss) Tweed, members were required to wear hats in the shape of dolphins. By the 1880 census the house next door, 23 St. Marks Place, had been turned into a multiple dwelling...In 1887 the Arion Society moved up to a new clubhouse at 59th Street and Park Avenue and George Ehret, a brewer and real estate investor, bought 19 and 21 and, next year, 23 St. Marks Place. He joined the buildings and leased them out as a ballroom and community hall, which became known as Arlington Hall.

Gray neglects to mention Arlington Hall's most notorious incident, which happened on January 9, 1914--a territorial shootout between rival Jewish and Italian gangs, led by "Dopey" Benny Fein and Jack Sirocco, respectively. Details of the occurrence can be read here, but for our purposes let's return to Gray:

In the 1920s the Polish National Home bought 19, 21, 23 and 25 St. Marks Place, combining the four buildings to house Polish organizations and a Polish restaurant open to the public. By the 1950s this section of Greenwich Village was attracting the Beat Generation. Stanley Tolkin, a bar owner, took over part of the complex--apparently the basement area of 19 and 21 St. Marks Place--as a performance space. The Fugs, famous for songs like "Group Grope" and "Slum Goddess of the Lower East Side," often performed there.

Tolkin was the proprietor of another bastion of Bohemia, Stanley's Bar at 13th and Avenue B. John Gruen's The New Bohemia (New York: A Cappella, 1966) offers this characterization of him:

Describing himself as an East Villager "since the year one," Stanley (as everyone calls him) is a congenial old-timer given to talking out of the side of his mouth. A friend of the artists, a shrewd businessman, and a father-confessor to the troubled of New Bohemia, Stanley has watched the growth of the area with as much amazement as other local residents. That he has so wisely responded to the impulses of the Combine Generation must be attributed to his acumen for very early noting the shifts in the area's social and artistic climate.

From what I gather, there were two different (yet related) mid-'60s bars in the same 19-25 complex. Stanley's was smaller, and since it's usually described as being "downstairs" I'm guessing it was situated in the basement. I'm not quite sure which floor the Dom was on--photos from the era show the Dom's entrances at the ground level, but it's often described as being on the second floor. It took its name from the Polski Dom Narodowy, and presumably occupied what had been the Polish Home's (and Arlington Hall's) ballroom space. Those same photos show "Polski..." signs on the first above-ground floor (with separate doorways accessible from stoops), so I assume the Polish National Home maintained some facilities at 19-25 while the Dom was in action. Here's an account from Lorenzo Thomas in Ronald Sukenick's Down and In: Life in the Underground (New York: Collier, 1987):

There was a big upstairs dance hall, and there was...the downstairs section where the food and stuff was prepared for the dances held up in the dance hall...Stanley made a bar out of it...Now it already had a long bar in there, and there was a huge room next to it. He installed all these tables in there, and for the first night of the opening he leafletted Stanley's [the original at 13th and B] announcing this affair, and of course the word was all over the street, and the opening night he served draft beers for a nickel. So you can tell what the result was. The entire Lower East Side, all the painters, all the poets, everybody in the world showed up...The place must have had five hundred people in it...Everybody was there, every different magazine grouping or workshop grouping, all of the various painters, musicians, in other words it was like the entire East Side simply turned out in one place at one time for the opening of this new joint...There was no entertainment...After that they began to do things like live music. They had jazz, they had bands that played back in the larger room for dancing...[Then it] became a jukebox disco place, and the population changed from the East Village people to mainly Black kids and the box was mainly soul music.

And here's a description from The New Bohemia:

The most dynamic of the New Bohemia bars has been the Dom...[which] opened a little over a year ago and immediately became the central meeting ground of the New Bohemia. On any night the large, dark dance floor is an impenetrable forest of couples jumping, twisting, gyrating to the music of a perpetually fed jukebox. Young Negroes ask white girls to dance, and are never turned down. The music heightens everyone's need for action, motion, and release. The Dom's long and roomy bar is lined with young people whose faces reflect the excitement of the place. The talk is animated, and the sense of exhilaration that pervades the place makes of everyone a potential friend and lover.

Steven Watson's Factory Made: Warhol and the Sixties (New York: Pantheon, 2003), is rather less effusive:

The Polsky Dom Narodny [sic] was an East Village Polish wedding and social hall (Dom is Polish for "home") with a high stage on the second floor, a bar, and even a balcony. But the charmless space had no lighting system and smelled of cat urine. In 1966 St. Marks Place was just evolving into the edgy East Village, and the only vaguely hip establishments on the block were a soda fountain called the Gem Spa and Khadejha, a shop for African-style dresses.

These conditions didn't deter Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey. They were looking for a space to put on a series of multimedia happenings, replete with films, light shows, dancers, and their new "house band," the Velvet Underground. There had been tentative plans to associate with a new discotheque built inside an old airplane hangar-turned-film studio on Long Island, to be called Andy Warhol's Up. But the disco's owner, Broadway producer Michael Mayerberg, apparently balked at the dark glamour of the Factory crowd and the scary sounds of the Velvets; he opted to call his place Murray the K's World and open with the established Rascals instead. [As quoted from Popism: The Warhol '60s in the previous post, Warhol actually attributes the "Up" scenario to an aborted affiliation with the Cheetah. Elsewhere in Popism he states that the proposed association with this Long Island disco would have led to it being named Andy Warhol's World--and supposedly the airplane hangar in which the disco was situated had once housed Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis.] On a suggestion from artists Jackie Cassen and Rudi Stern (who had leased the Dom for their Theater of Light events), Warhol and Morrissey scoped out the Dom, liked what they saw, and rented the place for April, 1966 at a cost of $2,500. The result was the Exploding Plastic Inevitable. Follow the links or pick up any Velvets tome to get the full account of the E.P.I.--I'll limit my quotations to descriptions of the atmosphere at the Dom itself.

From Popism: The Dom was perfect, just what we wanted--it had to be the biggest discotheque dance floor in Manhattan, and there was a balcony, too. We sublet it immediately from Jackie and Rudi...then we signed a few papers, and the very next day we were down there painting the place white so we could project movies and slides on the walls. We started dragging prop-type odds and ends over from the Factory [projectors, lights, a mirror-ball, etc.]...Of course, we had no idea if people would come all the way down to St. Marks Place for night life. All the downtown action had always been in the West Village--the East Village was Babushkaville. But by renting the Dom ourselves, we didn't have to worry about whether "management" liked us or not, we could just do whatever we wanted to. And the Velvets were thrilled--in the Dom, the "house band" finally had a house. They could even walk to work...We all knew something revolutionary was happening, we just felt it. Things couldn't be this strange and new without some barrier being broken. "It's like the Red Seeeea," Nico said, standing next to be one night on the Dom balcony that looked out over all the action, "paaaaarting." All that month the limousines pulled up outside the Dom. Inside, the Velvets played so loud and crazy I couldn't even begin to guess the decibels, and there were images projected everywhere, one on top of the other...Ondine and the Duchess would shoot people up in the crowd if they halfway knew them...The kids at the Dom looked really great, glittering and reflecting in vinyl, suede, and feathers, in skirts and boots and bright-colored mesh tights, and patent leather shoes, and silver and gold hip-riding miniskirts, and the Paco Rabanne thin plastic look with the linked plastic disks in the dresses, and lots of bell-bottoms and poor boy sweaters, and short, short dresses that flared out at the shoulders and ended way above the knee.

From Factory Made: Those three weeks at the Dom became a participatory nonstop party. Barbara Rubin invited Allen Ginsberg to join in, and he would chant Hare Krishna; Walter Cronkite and Jackie Kennedy stopped by to see what was happening with the new generation; and TV crews showed up. The poet John Ashbery, who had been away in Paris during the rise of intermedia, found himself utterly disoriented. "I don't understand this at all," he said, and burst into tears.

Stories conflict as to how the EPI ended its initial stint at the Dom. According to Sterling Morrison's interview in the March 6, 1970 issue of Fusion [reprinted in All Yesterday's Parties (Cambridge: Da Capo, 2005)], the Velvets were supposed to have a three-year lease on the Dom, but upon returning to New York after a mid-'66 tour, "[W]e went back to our room since that was our thing. We owned it for three years, and when we came back we discovered it was now called the Balloon Farm. Actually our lease had been torn up and the director of the Polish home had been bribed and bought off and so our building had been taken away from us."

Popism and Factory Made make no reference to a three-year lease. "The experience of playing in the heat of Chicago in a club that had no air conditioning didn't go over too well with the E.P.I.," says Warhol in Popism, "and since the Dom didn't have air conditioning either, Paul told Stanley [Tolkin] that we would wait and rent it again when it got cool...In the fall when Paul went back to rent the Dom, Stanley told him sorry, it was already rented. Al Grossman and Charlie Rothchild opened it as the Balloon Farm and asked the Velvets to play there anyway--upstairs--and they did, since they didn't have anything else to do. In the basement there was a bar with a jukebox, and Paul managed that, off and on, into the next spring and charged admission." Nico began a solo engagement downstairs at Stanley's, initially singing to cassette-taped backing tracks of the Velvet Underground, but eventually accompanied by a series of guitarists, including "Tim Buckley, Jackson Browne, Steve Noonan, Jack Elliot, Tim Hardin--[Paul] promising them they could do a set alone if only they'd play a little for Nico while she sang."

I haven't been able to locate much info on the Balloon Farm incarnation of the club. Supposedly its name came from a comment Bob Dylan had made about seeing imaginary cartoon speech balloons above the patrons' heads--since Albert Grossman was Dylan's manager I guess it could be true. In turn, the band behind one of '67's wickedest nuggets, "A Question of Temperature," apparently did name themselves after the club--but I'm not sure if they ever played there. The Mothers of Invention did, but apart from them and the Velvets I haven't been able to track down other performers. And at some point the club may have reverted to its old moniker--the best VU site lists a Dom engagement from March 15-22, 1967.

At any rate, the Grossman era was short-lived. Sometime in mid-1967 (dates conflict but are usually cited in the May-July period) he sold his lease to Jerry Brandt, who oversaw its transformation into the Lower East Side's premier psychedelic ballroom--the Electric Circus. According to A. M. Nolan's Rock and Roll Road Trip (New York: Pharos, 1992), Brandt was a William Morris agent-turned-impresario who "created an overwhelming environment of loud music, light, and strangely costumed revelers. Many top rock groups performed here but their shows were a sideshow event; the club was the star." Perry and Glinert's Fodor's Rock and Roll Traveler USA (New York: Fodor's, 1996) states that the club's first booking was "the Alternative Legal Entertainment Experiment, a show of acrobats, astrologers, and clowns." From Joel Lobenthal's Radical Rags: Fashions of the Sixties (New York: Abbeville Press, 1990):

[T]he Electric Circus became New York's ultimate mixed-media pleasure dome. Its hallucinogenic light baths enthralled every sector of New York society. "When you're finished with reality, come up here," invited Jerry Brandt, twenty-eight-year-old owner of the club. Borrowing further from the West Coast culture, the Electric Circus was populated with roustabouts of the annual "Renaissance Fairs" of San Francisco and Los Angeles. Life reported, "Magnified images of children in a park, a giant armadillo or Lyndon Johnson disport themselves on the white plastic sculptured expanse of the tent-like ceiling. Gigantic light-amoeba rove among the images, pulsating and contracting with the relentless beat of a rock band...A young man with the moon and stars painted on his back soars overhead on a silver trapeze, and a ring juggler manipulates colored hoops and shaggy hippies who unconcernedly perform a pagan tribal dance...Stoboscopic lights flicker over the dancers, breaking up their movements into a jerky parody of an old-time Chaplin movie. But then loud, loud, the hippies' national anthem, the Beatles' 'A Day in the Life,' begins, and there is stillness, reverie."...[In the club's on-site boutique], "Clothes, Furbelows, Feathers, and Astonishments," were all purveyed.

From Brewster and Broughton's Last Night A D.J. Saved My Life (New York: Grove Press, 1999): After financing the club with an audacious scheme in which the Coffee Growers' Association contributed $250,000, provided coffee was the main drink served in the club, he brought in Ivan Chermayeff who had designed the America Pavilion at the World's Fair. The designer transformed Electric Circus into a giant Bedouin tent comprised of white stretch yarn. Projections of home movies, liquid lights and morphing glutinous blobs glowed on the fabric. A gigantic sound system blasted rock freakouts to the St. Vitus dancers. The Electric Circus trumpeted itself as "the ultimate legal experience" yet it was far from it. Drugs were rife...[The club] was immortalized in Coogan's Bluff as the Pigeon-Toed Orange Peel Club, where Clint Eastwood chases an errant hippie prisoner into this den of iniquity. He soon collapses in a stoned stupor as the lights pulse and throb around him.

Brandt had clearly taken some multimedia cues from the E.P.I., but he had more sensory-overload resources at his disposal. From Popism: The difference between the E.P.I. and the Electric Circus sort of summed up what had happened with Pop culture as it moved from the primitive period into Early Slick...The year before we'd had to pioneer a media show out of whatever we could improvise from whatever we had lying around--tinfoil and movie projectors and phosphorescent tape and mirrored balls. But suddenly, during the '66-'67 year, a whole Pop industry had started and snowballed into mass-manufacturing the light show paraphernalia and blow-your-mind stuff. And a good general example of how much things had changed in such a short time is "Eric's Fuck Room." With us, this was just a small alcove off the side of the dance floor where we'd thrown a couple of funky old mattresses in case people wanted to "lounge," but it ended up being just a place where Eric [Emerson] hijacked girls to for sex during the E.P.I. shows; now, under the new Electric Circus management, it was transformed into the "Meditation Room," with carpeted platforms and Astroturf and a health food bar.

A 1969 article discussing the "psycho-theological" aspects of the club is reprinted here.

I've been having a hard time nailing down names/dates of specific performers at the Circus, but here are a few:

The Seeds, July 17, 1967--Jimi Hendrix was in the audience.

The Chambers Brothers, though I'm not sure when.

The Voices of East Harlem, whom Brandt managed--also not sure of the date(s).

Morton Subotnick was the club's director of electronic music from '67-'68.

Clear Light did a week-long engagement opening for Timothy Leary--again, not sure when.

The Grateful Dead, May 7-9, 1969.

Think Dog, sometime in 1968.

The Paupers from Toronto played there in September of 1968.

Terry Riley in 1969.

Blues bassist Johnny Ace recalls a series of blues concerts there in 1969, featuring Freddie King, Slim Harpo, Muddy Waters, Buddy Moss, and the Chicago Blues All-Stars.

[UPDATE 1/6/2007: Not particularly rock and roll in scope, but I was tickled pink to learn that Halston organized a retrospective fashion show honoring Charles James at the Circus on December 16, 1969. I imagine James' swellegant '40s/'50s evening gowns clashed mightily with the psychedelic madness of the Circus' decor. This tidbit was gleaned from Halston, edited by Steven Bluttal (London: Phaidon, 2001).]

The Flamin' Groovies, sometime in January 1970.

The James Gang had a "bummer gig" there during the summer of 1970.

The post-Reed Velvet Underground did a two-night stand on January 29-30, 1971.

The Stooges, June 1971, with Iggy covered in silver paint and glitter and upchucking all over the place--read all about it in McNeil and McCain's Please Kill Me (New York: Grove Press, 1996).

There have got to be many other names to uncover, but I've spent way too much time on this entry already--must...move...on...

Brandt may have envisioned opening a string of Electric Circuses worldwide; at any rate, he managed to open a second Circus in Toronto. But the original Circus eventually left town. According to Terry Miller's Greenwich Village and How It Got That Way (New York: Crown, 1990), "In March 1970 a small bomb exploded on the dance floor, injuring seventeen people, and the Electric Circus never recovered from the adverse publicity that followed." (An article in the East Village Other implicated that the bomb was planted in protest of the club's high admission prices--a whopping $4.50!) An architect quoted in Anthony Haden-Guest's The Last Party (New York: William Morrow, 1997) attributes the club's demise to an unattractive redesign by Charles Gwathmey. Whatever the culprit--which was probably just the march of time and tastes--the Electric Circus closed in September, 1971. [I'm not quite sure when Stanley's closed.] Brandt embarked on various other projects, including managing Carly Simon and Jobriath, running other short-lived clubs and an early designer jeans boutique, producing a flop Broadway musical called Got Tu Go Disco (I can still recall its relentless TV ad campaign), and opening the Ritz, which went on to become one of the top live venues of the '80s (to be covered in a future entry).

As for 19-25 St. Marks--the complex apparently saw sporadic use as a performance space until the late '70s, when it was bought by Reverend Joyce Hartwell for her All-Craft Foundation Center, a multipurpose community center for recovering alcoholics and drug addicts. [When I was younger and had a cuter butt, I'd sometimes get goosed by mischievous young hooligans hanging out in front of the place as I walked by.] A Tim Buckley fansite has some pics of the Center's long-time blue-and-white exterior (scroll down a bit), while Julian Cope's Head Heritage psych site reports that some architectural elements from the Electric Circus remained intact inside the building as of the '80s. But as my super-nostalgic Pops would say in his exemplary Noo Yawk accent, "No more...thing o' the era gone by." The Center went bankrupt in 2000, whereupon the complex was acquired by developer Charles Yassky. It was completely gutted and refurbished (the bricks on its new facade apparently came from a disused upstate mill, according to the NY Songlines site), and is now a mini-mall of sorts, housing a number of chain restaurants.

UPDATE 10/15/2007: Add Michael Brown proteges Montage to the list of Circus performers, according to this Vance Chapman interview on "I was nervous about The Electric Circus because it was a huge place that normally featured some pretty hard-rock bands, and I felt that we'd be too mellow for the crowd. But to my amazement, they were thrilled with every song we did. Our last song of the night was a cover of The Beatles' “Hey Jude.” At the end of that song the entire crowd was up to the edge of the stage, clapping their hands over their heads while they sang along with the "na-na-na" part. I couldn't believe my eyes and ears."

[UPDATE 5/25/2010: Here's an image of the Circus' interior that I got from cheapocheapo's tumblr. I'm sure this pic is in one of my books, possibly Last Night a DJ Saved My Life IIRC, but I didn't scan it at the time the entry was written. Also, NYCDreamin' located an image of a Circus poster a while back.]

UPDATE 6/1/2010: Here's the text of an ad I found in the June 22 and 29, 1967 issues of the Village Voice, announcing the opening of the club. I'll type it as it appeared, in capitals and with line-breaks intact:
OPENS JUNE 28, 1967

UPDATE 6/3/2010: I posted a bunch of 1967 Electric Circus ads here.

UPDATE 6/10/2010: I also posted some ads for the Balloon Farm and the Dom.

UPDATE 6/25/2010: Here are a bunch of 1969 Electric Circus ads.

UPDATE 11/18/2011:  Please see the revised and updated posts on 1967 ads for the Dom and the Balloon Farm and the Electric Circus.

UPDATE 3/15/2012:  Here is the revised and updated post on 1969 Electric Circus ads.

UPDATE 9/18/2013:  The Bedford + Bowery blog did a cool feature on the Electric Circus, replete with stories from some folks who played there.

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 of yore, including the Electric Circus.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Somehow I missed this Cheetah

I can't believe I didn't consult Popism: The Warhol '60s by Warhol and Pat Hackett (New York: Harper & Row, 1980) for the Cheetah entry. While researching info for the next site I'll be investigating, I came upon this:

Toward the end of April, a club called the Cheetah opened on Broadway and 53rd Street. It was a big operation, with a fifteen-hundred capacity, done up very slick with colored lights and vinyl strips hanging off the ceiling, and movies and slides and closed circuit TV, and spin-offs like a television room and a boutique.

And bands--the Velvets played at the opening; I saw Monti Rock III dash by in a glittering gold outfit, looking, he said, for Joan Crawford.

The Cheetah was the brainchild of Olivier Coquelin, and when it was in the planning stages, Olivier had asked me and Edie to be the host and hostess there--Andy and Edie's Up, he wanted to call it. But he and his backers were good business people and in those days we weren't--we were so loose when it came to things like schedules and contracts, and also, we never wanted to commit ourselves to anything; all we wanted was to run around and have a good time. So the next thing I knew, their beautiful slick club was opening--without me--and it was a sensation.

The clothes the guys wore at the Cheetah shows that they were catching up with the girls, discoing in the new styles--polka-dot shirts and bell-bottoms and boots and little caps.

But the most remarkable thing was that there was not one drop of liquor on the premises (they figured it would be impossible to check I.D.'s for thousands of kids who would all be right around the legal age limit), and nobody missed it. The kids weren't really drinking anymore anyway--drugs were a new thing on their minds; liquor seemed old-fashioned.

More Warholian-tinged madness to come...

[UPDATE 7/1/2005: Missed these Cheetahs as well. The Grateful Dead were booked there on June 12, 1967. And while recently perusing an Emitt Rhodes interview in a back issue of Scram magazine (I'm really digging the Merry-Go-Round reissue on Rev-ola), I found a reprint of a Cheetah business card which proved that there was indeed a connection between the N.Y., Chicago and L.A. clubs. The card also professed the existence of yet another Cheetah, in Union, New Jersey of all places. Haven't found any reference to a Jersey Cheetah elsewhere, though. Now I've gotta figure out if there was any affiliation with a late-'60s magazine that was also called Cheetah.]

Friday, June 24, 2005


First, a few more stray snippets I've lately encountered about the Scene. While flying to Vancouver last week I managed to finish Clinton Heylin's All Yesterday's Parties: The Velvet Underground In Print, 1966-1971 (Cambridge: Da Capo Press, 2005), a cool compendium of vintage articles and adverts about the VU. It includes an ad for a solo engagement by Nico at the Scene: "The moongoddess Nico will conduct services nightly at Steve Paul's The Scene...leading you in all your splendor with her liturgical chants. October 23-30. Dancing for the body and soul also available before and after the services. Steve Paul's The Scene, 301 W. 46th Street, JU2-5760." The year isn't given, but I'll assume it was 1967.

Elsewhere in the book is a 1970 interview with Sterling Morrison (which can be read in its entirety here); when asked if he's been to the Scene lately, he replies:

It's closed. The Mafia was beating people up. They were having these incredible fights, thugs coming in. So Steve Paul just shut it down. That was going on at Arthur's too. The liquor laws work in such a way that if you have a trouble spot your liquor license can be revoked. So organized crime comes in and says, I want a piece of the action, and they say, no, you can't have it. So they just start these giant fights there. And the clubs lose their license. That's what happened at Arthur's. The Mafia people will even beat themselves up just so the police will come. That's what happened at the Scene.

Apparently the Scene actually opened in 1964, not '65 as I'd originally thought--this fellow recalls playing there in the fall of '64 with a band called the Outsiders. And via the Leftbankism yahoogroup, I recently learned that the Banke's Tom Finn was married to a woman named Margaret who had worked as the Scene's manager for a year or so. This info was culled from a Daily News "Night Owl Reporter" column dated August 10, 1971; the main topic of that day's column was ice cream parlors, and the Finns were then running one called Big Brother in the Orwell House apartment building (get it?) at 86th and Central Park West.

As for Vancouver--we went there because at last year's CNE I won free airfare for two to any Canadian destination on WestJet Airlines, and I figured we'd get the most out of the prize if we took the longest flight possible. I've heard the city described as the L.A. of Canada, but it reminded me more of San Francisco--it's on a peninsula after all (at least in the downtown core), with hilly terrain, a somewhat chilly climate, many miles of waterfront, some Victorian architecture remaining between the ultra-modern skyscrapers, a Chinatown (which we regrettably didn't get the chance to visit), and quite a hippie heritage. We explored the latter at the Vancouver Museum's psyched-out "You Say You Want a Revolution" exhibit--it was set up to resemble a hippie pad, and chock-full of all sorts of artifacts/info/sound clips/videos on the local scene. It even had some posters from the Retinal Circus club (including one for a VU gig!), which I later learned was located on Davie Street just a few blocks from our hotel. The museum also featured a gallery on the '50s in Vancouver (when neon lights and wacky nightclubs like the Cave abounded downtown), and on the history of the city's local skateboarding subculture. Other highlights:
  • A spectacular but grueling power-walk along the waterfront and in Stanley Park.

  • More power-walks in the downtown area.

  • Eating some of the best Thai food of our lives at the Thai House on Hamilton Street.

  • Shopping for records at Red Cat (check out the site's collages featuring store mascot Buddy--not to be missed!) and Neptoon.

  • Riding the bizarro, futuristic Skytrain (completely computer-operated--no drivers!) .

  • Lunch at the White Spot with our friend Kim, who's currently living in Vancouver but hopefully will soon be living in Seattle with our other buddy Efram.

  • A delightful afternoon with the legendary Nardwuar the Human Serviette. Rocky knows him from way back. I was a little intimidated about meeting him, 'cause I get real nervous around famous folks I admire, but he was totally kind, down-to-earth, and easy to talk to. He's a lot more mild-mannered in person than in his on-mic persona, but he's just as inquisitive in normal conversation--asked me a lot of questions about CBGBs, for example. He informed us that the Howard Johnson's we were staying at had previously been known as the Hotel California, and it had once housed a rock club called the Cruel Elephant--Hole had their first Vancouver gig there, and as such that's where he first encountered Courtney Love. He pointed out other landmarks on the drive out to UBC, where he had us sit in on his CITR radio show!!! He had an interview scheduled with Melissa Auf Der Maur, but the rest of the time he was riffing back & forth with us and allowing us to pick out records and promote our meager projects (occasional Dementia 13 d.j.-ing, Rocky's recent Misty Lane article on Satan and the D-Men, and this bloody blog!). I don't think I've ever felt so honored in all my life. Afterwards he took us to 4th Avenue in Kitsilano, where we shopped at Zulu Records and ate Mexican at Las Margaritas.

We were so beat from sightseeing that we didn't go to any shows, even though we were within walking distance of places like the Railway Club. But it didn't matter--we were totally happy with what we managed to pack in during the day. I'd highly recommend a visit to this largely lovely city--just take a reverse cue from Cookie Kwan and stay off the east side.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Well I'm Harvey the Hunter, that's my name...

We turn now to my alma mater. My brother, who among many other things is the king of the misheard lyric, used to enjoy singing the above botched line from Led Zeppelin's "How Many More Times" to me in reference to my status as a Hunter College student. It may not be thee most prestigious school on Earth, but I'm proud to be a Hunter alumnus--prouder still that I went there on a full scholarship, which included a free dorm at its Brookdale campus at 1st Ave. & 25th Street. Imagine, four years in Manhattan, gloriously rent-free!!! Unfortunately I was often so bogged down with responsibilities (studying, copy-editing the school paper, and a part-time job) that finding time to properly enjoy an extended adolescence in the city could be a challenge. Not that I was chained to my desk at all hours--I managed to get out & have fun regularly. But the majority of my all-nighters involved working on essays, not drinking myself blotto or checking out new bands downtown. Which kinda sucked when I was in such close proximity to the Center of the Universe. Many potential nights of fun were sacrificed to the Demi-gods of Good Grades. I graduated in four years' time, but I might have been a happier soul had I slacked off a bit and gone of the typical CUNY 5- or 6-year plan. Jeez, one pal of mine seemed to be on the 10-years-plus plan! But as is my wont, I digress...

HUNTER COLLEGE AUDITORIUM, North Building, 1st Floor, 69th Street b/w Lexington and Park Avenues. (Hunter's official address is 695 Park Avenue, but most main entrances are near the subway stop at 68th & Lex.) I believe the North Building was erected in the late '30s (at any rate, its elevators actually had operators!), and IIRC the Auditorium had an elegant art-deco feel to it. Granted, my memory may be fuzzy. The hall seemed severely underutilized during my time at Hunter. I can recall stepping foot in there only twice--for a speech/Q&A session by then-Mayor David Dinkins, and for my graduation, during which soprano Jessye Norman was given an honorary doctorate. But there was a period when the place saw a fair share of action. In the late '60s and early '70s, a number of Fillmore East-caliber bands put on shows at the Auditorium, including:

The Youngbloods, with Phil Ochs, Feb. 25, 1967. Ochs played there again on October 23, 1971.

The Jefferson Airplane--an uncomfirmed date in October, 1967.

The Doors, with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, November 24, 1967 (and possibly another date in 1968, if these photos are correctly dated.) A poster for this gig can be viewed here; evidently the show was sponsored by the Alpha Epsilon Pi frat! [Which surprises me, 'cause I'd always heard Hunter was a women-only institution prior to 1968.] [UPDATE 10/19/2007: Just found a site with some images from this gig!]

Jimi Hendrix, March 2, 1968. Supposedly the Troggs opened--there must have been quite a jam during "Wild Thing."

Vanilla Fudge with Every Mother's Son, March 16, 1968--quite a study in contrasts.

Cream, March 19, 1968. Read personal recollections from a fan here.

Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Co., November 15, 1968.

Pink Floyd, May 11, 1971.

Country Joe, October 25,1971.

[I know I recently read somewhere that the Byrds also performed there, but I didn't copy the link and now I can't locate the blasted reference.]

Somewhere along the line the powers that be must have nixed the idea of further rock concerts at the Auditorium. Marianne Faithfull played the College in 2000, but that was at the campus' smaller Sylvia and Danny Kaye Playhouse. Shows by Hunter-centric bands and/or other local acts probably take place at parties elsewhere on campus (I can remember the Toasters playing at Brookdale's cafeteria ca. 1990), but it seems like the Auditorium is given over exclusively to lectures, classical concerts, and other dignified events of that ilk.

UPDATE 6/10/2010: I posted several Hunter College '67 concert ads here.

UPDATE 11/18/2011: Please see the revised and updated post on 1967 ads for Hunter and other colleges here.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

I can always spot a Cheetah

I'll dedicate this entry to Mr. Doshna, my zany 9th grade Earth Science teacher back at good old St. Francis Prep. His droll delivery, augmented by his patented adenoidal Lawn Guyland whine, made even the dullest of geological factoids palatable. He often made fun of my ridiculous punk rock hairdo, as in, "Ms. C., your hair looks like a bird's nest." Whenever we had a test--and I seem to recall having them at least once a week--he'd pass out the Scan-tron multiple choice forms (regular Scan-trons for average-length tests, "mini"-Scan-trons for pop quizzes, and "Intergalactic-Mega-Scan-trons" for huge exams), put up "cheater boards" between our desks to prevent wandering eyes, and hang up a huge poster of a cheetah at the front of the room to serve as a constant reminder that he could "always spot a cheat-ah." A couple of times he deliberately left the poster down, just so he could cornily tell us that the cheetah was vacationing in Nairobi that week. Oh this:

(THE) CHEETAH, Broadway and 53rd Street. The Cheetah is widely regarded as the city's first super-sized, sensory-overload, multi-media mega-club. This may have been a new concept in New York nightclubbing, but the space it occupied had a history. Its previous incarnation was as I. Jay Faggan's Arcadia Ballroom, a jazz and dancing establishment which had played host to the likes of Ray Miller, Roy Eldridge, Larry Fotine, Benny Carter, Sonny James, and Les Brown. (The Arcadia itself had been remodeled in 1924 from a prior ballroom called the Blue Bird.) I'm not sure when the Arcadia closed, but the Cheetah took its place in April, 1966. According to Steven Watson's Factory Made: Warhol and the Sixties (New York: Pantheon, 2003), it "was the granddaddy of the big commercial disco":

The most elaborate discotheque was Cheetah, on Broadway and 53rd Street, where everybody, according to Life, looked like "a kook in a Kubla Khanteen." The three thousand colored lightbulbs dimmed and flicked and popped into an infinity of light patterns, reflecting off shiny aluminum sheets. Cheetah held two thousand people and offered not only dancing but a library, a movie room, and color television. "The Cheetah provides the most curious use of the intermedia," wrote Jonas Mekas. "Whereas the Dom shows are restricted (or became restricted) to the In-circle, Cheetah was designed for the masses. An attempt was made to go over the persona, over the ego to reach the impersonal, abstract, universal."

Brewster and Broughton's Last Night A DJ Saved My Life (New York: Grove Press, 1999) describes the place as follows:

[T]his had been opened by Le Club's staid Frenchman, Oliver Coquelin. Situated on the site of the Arcadia Ballroom near Broadway's theatre district, it threw its doors open on May 28, 1966. The cavernous space had a dancefloor with circular podiums scattered randomly like outsized polka dots. Each supported a girl frugging. Above, a cavalcade of 3,000 colored lights palpitated gently, while a boutique at the back sold the latest Carnaby Street fashions. And there was smooth and soft black velvet everywhere--except the bar, which was covered in fake fur. In the basement there was a TV room and on the upper floor a cinema showed the latest, strangest, underground movies. Variety got rather excited about this new boite: "GOTHAM'S NEW CHEETAH A KINGSIZED WATUSERY WITH A FORT KNOX POTENTIAL." A striking Puerto Rican teenager, Yvon Leybold, clad in hot pants and fishnets, ventured down from Spanish Harlem. "Cheetah was the first real disco club I went to," she recalls. "That was a lot of fun. It was a very mixed atmosphere. It was the first time I went into a place and you see lights and you see atmosphere, instead of the rinky-dink places I was used to."

Joel Lobenthal's Radical Rags: Fashions of the Sixties (New York: Abbeville Press, 1990) offers this description:

By the time Cheetah opened near Times Square in April 1966, the discotheque had become a self-contained Aladdin's Cave, in which the visitor surrendered his or her everyday identity in search of Dionysian transport. Cheetah employed many conspiring elements to bedazzle its switched-on congregation. Banks of colored lights shone on its patrons. Suspended high above the writhing crowds, huge sheets of chrome--a giant mobile created by industrial designer Michael Lax--undulated rhythmically, while at the club's opening night the customers echoed the mise en scene: "each girl was more electric than the next," Eugenia Sheppard reported. "The swinging hair. The wild colors. The mini-mini-skirts."...Cheetah initated a trend by selling earmarked discotheque attire in a boutique included in a multi-level complex consisting of dance floor, underground-film screening room, and hot dog stand. The proprietor of Cheetah's boutique noticed that many customers were purchasing clothes to exchange for those they had arrived in, so the checkrooms were specially expanded.

There were distractions a-plenty at the Cheetah, including the obligatory late-'60s light shows, but music (both live and discotheque), dancing, and partying were the club's main raisons d'etre. A few examples thereof:

Apparently the club had its own dance, according to this guy named Larry: He had to pay for the dance classes, but he learned more about moving his feet from his job at the Cheetah - New York's first discotheque. In between checking coats, Larry got his feet wet - so to speak - on the dance floor at the hottest of hot spots in the hottest of hot cities on the planet. "It's time for ... the Cheetah Shuffle!" That was the rallying cry - an approximation of it, anyway. Gangs of dancers would hit the floor at the call and perform the line-dance like moves and grooves that constituted the Cheetah Shuffle. The regulars, such as they were, got so attuned to the fancy footwork that they actually gave their motions names and numbers. "Cheetah 1!" "Cheetah 2,3!" "Cheetah Cheetah!" With a word or two and a number or two or three - and don't forget the exclamation point - the gangs would move in sequence. And Larry, because he was there every night, checking coats, was soon their leader.

The Squires played there in 1966, featuring Curtis Knight and pre-fame Jimi Hendrix (dig those site-specific cheetah-print shirts!). Richie Havens reminisces about young Jimi's performance here.

The Velvet Underground and Tiny Tim played the Cheetah on April 11, 1967. This event, a benefit for WBAI, was billed as "An Imperial Happening" to mark "the coronation of his Serene Highness, Prince Robert, first American Emperor of the Eastern Byzantine Roman Empire."

A Dark Shadows costume party was held there, possibly on a Halloween night, with cast members in attendance.

Between its Public Theater debut and its long Broadway run at the Biltmore Theater, HAIR had an engagement at the Cheetah from December 22, 1967 through January 28, 1968.

[I'll try to locate more examples in the future--somehow Cheetah is not the easiest club name in the world to google.]

Suzanne de Passe was the Cheetah's talent booker before embarking on careers as a Motown executive and later as head of her own television production company. Some cool images/epherma from the club are available at the Groovy Times site, or here, here, and here to be specific. WABC-TV supposedly filmed a documentary entitled "Cheetah, The Mod Mecca"--I wonder if the videotape survived?

There were also Cheetah clubs in Los Angeles (in the former Aragon Ballroom on Lick Pier in Venice Beach) and Chicago (I believe it was in Chi-town's Aragon Ballroom). I'm not certain if they were financially affiliated with the New York Cheetah, but they did utilize the same half cheetah, half long-haired/well-endowed girl-creature logo.

Whither the Cheetah? I'm not absolutely sure when it closed down. I've come across numerous references to a Cheetah in midtown Manhattan that specialized in boogaloo and salsa music in the early '70s--but I haven't been able to ascertain whether that was an evolution in the B'way and 53rd Cheetah or a different club altogether. I'm not even sure which corner at 53rd the Cheetah was on, nor what stands in its place today. It's either an office building or a hotel, I would reckon.

UPDATE 10/15/2007: Apparently the Box Tops played the Cheetah around Halloween of 1967, according to this rare clip from Zacherle's Disc-O-Teen. Dig Alex Chilton back when he was all young and raspy!

UPDATE 1/2/2008: This past weekend, Domenic Priore's Riot on Sunset Strip program (Sunday afternoons on featured music from the NYC '60s scene, including a couple of tracks from a heretofore unknown to me live album recorded at the Cheetah called Where It's At. Three bands are featured on the LP--The Esquires (doing Paint It Black, Get Off My Cloud, Goin' Out of My Head, and Uptight), Mike St. Shaw and the Prophets (Good Lovin' and Papa's Got a Brand New Bag), and the Thunder Frog Ensemble (Baby Please Don't Put Me On and Everybody Needs Somebody to Love).

UPDATE 1/19/2010: A while back I received a lovely e-mail from a Cheetah regular named Valerie who offered some wonderful recollections of the club--read it here.

UPDATE 5/27/2010: NYC Dreamin' of This Ain't the Summer of Love posted a cool 1968 article about the club a while back.

UPDATE 6/4/2010: I posted a bunch of 1967 Cheetah ads here.

UPDATE 11/16/2011: Here's a revised and improved post with 1967 Cheetah ads.

UPDATE 6/2/2014:  Howie Pyro did a post about the Cheetah on Dangerous Minds, incorporating some of the info gathered here by yours truly.  He found that someone uploaded the aforementioned "Cheetah: The Mod Mecca" film on Youtube over a year ago.

UPDATE 12/20/2014: The College No. 9 tumblr did a piece about Cheetah earlier this year. One of my other posts about the club was quoted at length.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Making the (Steve Paul) Scene

I've been chancing upon references to this club lately--in a recent Warhol book, and on a Classic Albums documentary about the making of Electric Ladyland--so clearly the universe was telling me it was time to explore:

STEVE PAUL'S SCENE, 301 W. 46th Street. Technically it's Steve Paul's The Scene, but that's a tad awkward, no? At any rate, the Scene was among the most "in-crowd" of happening hotspots in late-'60s Manhattan. Major rock stars of the day not only performed there, they relished hanging out there, and these hang-outs frequently evolved into all-night jam sessions. As Lenny Kaye wrote in The History of Rock (1983), "Steve Paul's The Scene provided a watering hole for the late-night superstar, giving over its small, stamp-sized stage to after-hours jams and visiting dignitaries, the coming of age of all that would be known as Sixties rock." In the aforementioned Classic Albums doc, the Scene's maitre d', Jim Marron, describes the space as being "like a Paris disco, in that it was a cave-style. It had three rooms that focused in, like, a cross on the stage, and as a subterranean basement, it had the sort of Paris-cave-disco style to it."

I wish I could find out more about Steve Paul. As for what I do know...seems he first made a name for himself by working as the Peppermint Lounge's publicist during its twisitin' heyday, and later formed a management company, Blue Sky, which had the likes of Johnny Winter, Rick Derringer, and David Johansen on its roster. According to a groovy self-penned article in the May 1967 issue of Hullabaloo magazine, his ambitions for the impresario field were formed via frequent childhood viewings of the Late, Late Show:

The owners of nightclubs in ['30s and '40s] movies had loads of people to keep 'em company. Huge sofas and many phones in massive modern offices. Rising stages. Hidden safes loaded with cash. Beautiful girls in abundance. Bodyguard chums and not a blanket in sight. Doctors and do-gooders and firemen and free-thinkers had to go to bed at night. Nightclub owners didn't. Someday I'd grow up and own me a nightclub...I'd create me a world of reality within the world of reality. Make your dreams come true. It can happen to you. It would be called The Scene. Big S(cene) in name. Little s(cene) in reality (within reality). A place where together people could get together. I'd own it. But so would you. I'd work there. But so would you. I'd play there. But so would you. We'd all give what we could. For the scene's common good.

From what I can gather, the club initially opened in '65 to great fanfare. In the article, Paul writes of the Lovin' Spoonful, the Young Rascals, and Sammy Davis, Jr. gracing the stage. In Popism: The Warhol '60s (New York: Harper & Row, 1983), Warhol writes of a Scene party attended by himself and Edie Sedgwick; other guests included Liza Minnelli and Peter Allen, Baby Jane Holzer, "and Marion Javits and Huntington Hartford and Wendy Vanderbilt and Christina Paolozzi, who was the first model to appear nude in Harper's Bazaar," among other breathlessly dropped names. There's a pic of Edie meeting Mick Jagger at the Scene in Edie: An American Biography (New York: Knopf, 1982), and David McCabe's A Year in the Life of Andy Warhol (London: Phaidon 2003) has some fab shots of Warhol stars cavorting there while watching the Executives, a band made up of 12-year-olds in business suits. After about a year, though, the place got stale:

I know The Scene was great for a while. Because it was real. And because of that it began to stink. Even our scene stinks every now and then. Some of the kids who started coming were only chronological kids. The spontaneous entertainment tonight was yesterday's spontaneity. Being busy became bad. Instead of good. The publicity started stopping. We got what we deserved. We started sinking. And sunk...We owed $90,000. We weren't even doing business on Saturdays. You know where that's at. Real nowhere is the address.

The Scene closed up shop temporarily, but with some help (financial and otherwise--Paul specifically credits Peter Yarrow, Allen Ginsberg and Tiger Morse) it was able to successfully reopen. Legend has it that members of the Junior Mafia regularly came 'round to collect protection money; a certain Sopranos cast member (rest assured it's NOT Li'l Steven) is said to have been among the shakedowners. But such unsavory aspects didn't seem to stop the celebs and heads from packing the place. Chief among the rock gods in residence was Jimi Hendrix. As David Henderson writes in his fabulously florid 'Scuse Me While I Kiss The Sky (New York: Doubleday, 1978):

Jimi soon found the Scene Club irresistible...Fans did not hassle you there. It was dark and intimate, almost labyrinthine, yet you could go there and party, or play and just sit alone and drink, and no-one restrained you either way. And most important of all was that he could play there. He could play any time he wanted to. He could woodshed right in the middle of New York City. The Scene Club was like a miniforum model for every arena he would ever play. The shouting stark frenzy of the close room is what he brought with him to every stage around the world. It was always the small intimate room he was really playing to. The thousand and one nights of playing long into the Scene Club's night. When the chairs would finally be upside down upon the tiny tables. When Steve Paul himself would finally have to pull the plug, while Jimi alone in his universe would be totally unaware of the hour or of the devotees and workers who patiently waited within the exhilaration of his sound. At the Scene, Jimi would completely let himself go--playing all he knew and didn't know, going beyond sharing--playing all. Trying to get it all out.

Henderson describes the layout of the club as follows:

Out front, a big lighted entrance; inside are narrow rectangular panels leading up to a dim box office. You sweep past into a zigzag-shaped mazelike room with tiny tables and tiny-backed chairs. But up on the tiny stage, two feet off the floor, the music happens as it happens in all major cities of the Western world.

He goes on with a delightful account of a night Hendrix spent there with supergroupie Devon by his side--but you'll have to seek out the book to read it. [Speaking of groupies, parts of the 1970 doc Groupies were shot in and around the Scene.] Jimi's wee-hours jam sessions with various mega-musicians not only made their way into legend--some of 'em germinated into tracks on Electric Ladyland, recorded at the nearby Record Plant at 321 W. 44th Street. Hendrix also took part in a benefit concert for Biafran relief at the club--here's a pic of him and Joan Baez hanging out backstage between sets. Hendrix and Paul must have forged a strong friendship over those late Scene nights, for upon Jimi's death his management specially flew Paul in to attend the Seattle funeral.

Before moving to London and snagging a certain Beatle, Linda Eastman honed her photography skills while regularly making the Scene. Her friend Michael Weber provides an atmospheric account of the club and her picture-taking techniques, which I'll excerpt here (but do check out his site for more):

We met at The Scene in the heart of Hell's Kitchen, the most happening music joint in New York City. Linda was rumored to be the heiress to the Eastman Kodak fortune, a myth perpetrated by the fact she often sat with The Scene's resident millionaire, Deering Howe, as in John Deere tractors. Here was this perfectly clad debutante schlepping two Nikons around her neck while everyone else was tripping-out in their caftans. To say Linda stuck out like a sore thumb would be putting it mildly, but she was no heiress. The Scene was the place the top groups got together to jam when performing at New York's bigger venues. Getting past owner Steve Paul at the door was no mean feat, if you got past Teddy first, his sharkskin-suited maitre ‘d, up on the sidewalk. Paul was a brash 21-year-old kid, and if he did ordain your entrance to his club it was not before he unceremoniously put you down. That was his cover charge, a patented one line insult. Rarely, if ever, did he charge his regulars admission. I can't remember Steve ever insulting Linda, though. Her passion was photographing musicians and his was giving them a home. Linda and Steve were simpatico. Tiny Tim always warmed up the house, strumming camp show tunes on his little ukulele while singing along in that nasal falsetto he made famous years later on the Johnny Carson Show. When Tiny decided to finish, it could be one song it could be seven, the Super Groups would get up and jam. That's when Linda sprang to action. She worked seamlessly, blending in with the act. No matter who they were, how famous or infamous, Linda got in their face. That's how she got her portfolio together. For a while Linda was as much a fixture at The Scene as Tiny Tim. That's really saying something.

The Doors played a number of Scene dates in June, July, and October of 1967. Doors researcher Greg Shaw--again, not the Greg Shaw of Bomp fame--presents another evocative account of the club, which appears to come from another Hullabaloo article (please click the link for Doors-specific details):

Steve Paul's The Scene is a popular midtown nightclub at 46th St. and 8th Ave. It sports a labyrinth floor plan which extends through a bizarre network of brick walled cellar rooms and passageways. While the club caters primarily to the jet-set, it also attracts a growing number of the hippie community. Steve Paul once described the purpose of his club in this way: 'To use music as a common denominator for the fusion between music, musicians, people who like music, and people who are music in their very being.' Steve Paul, who had an uncanny eye for spotting new stars, would often feature new talent at his club long before word of them had gone out. Among the wide variety of performers featured at The Scene are the Velvet Underground, Pink Floyd, Jeff Beck, Traffic, the Rascals, Fleetwood Mac and The Chambers Brothers.

A short list of other Scene-sters:

The May, 1967 issue of Crawdaddy! printed this tasty little item:

Steve Paul is producing a series of two-hour color TV specials on pop music and people and the interaction between them; the show will be seen on Channel 5 in New York and certain other Metromedia stations across the country. Steve's club, the Scene, has recently been the late-night home of some very nice New York jam sessions, particularly while the Cream, the Chicago Loop, and Wilson Pickett's band were working nearby in Murray the K's Easter show at the RKO 58th. [From The Crawdaddy! Book (Milwaukee: Hal Leonard, 2002).]

As far as I know, only one of these specials, entitled The Steve Paul Scene, made it to air, featuring the Blues Project, Moby Grape, and the Staples Singers--it's a tripped-out artifact of a bygone era, available for viewing at the Museum of Television and Radio.

And as for the Scene, it closed sometime in 1969. Steve Paul himself had prophesied its demise in the Hullabaloo article. "This time we'll try and make it last. But it won't. Nothing great lasts all the time. Just some of the time and always meaning to the rest. NIGHTCLUB (A definition): A childhood dream come untrue, a reality sinking up instead of down, a Scene, a scene."

[EDIT 11/20/2009: You can see footage of the entrance and interior of the Scene in this excerpt from Groupies.]

[EDIT 3/11/2010: Another one from my "Yes, I DO live under a rock" file...despite being on Facebook for a number of years now, I only just dicovered today there is a Facebook fan page for the Scene! I guess I should start searching for other ancient NYC club pages, stat.]

[UPDATE 5/6/2010: Here are a few Scene ads recently unearthed by a long-time Internet pal of mine, the eagle-eyed Rob B.]

[UPDATE 5/7/2010: Evidently the Motions also played there around June of 1969, with Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz in attendance! These clips have been on youtube since 2006 but I only just discovered them today.]

[UPDATE 5/12/2010: Found an article about Steve Paul and the club in the July 19, 1967 issue of the Village Voice.]
[UPDATE 5/26/2010: NYCDreamin' of This Ain't the Summer of Love posted a cool Scene "win a free record" ad a while back.]
[UPDATE 5/31/2010: Scanned from Clinton Heylin's All Yesterday's Parties: The Velvet Underground in Print, 1966-1971 (NY: Da Capo Press, 2005).]

[UPDATE 6/7/2010: I posted a whole mess of 1967 Scene ads here and here.]

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

[UPDATE 5/15/2012:  Revised and improved posts on 1967 and 1969 Scene ads.]

UPDATE 5/8/2013:  Jeremiah's VNY reports that 301 W. 46th Street is slated for demolition.  Also, learn a bit about the Scene's predecessor, the Cave of the Fallen Angels, at Gotham Lost & Found.

Channeling with clarity

Might as well get three other Ron Delsener Presents/Clear Channel venues out of the way. Much like the Beacon, these hallowed halls are history-steeped, rendering them worthy of your attendance despite the heavy corporate associations--so long as you're not put off by large crowds, long hours of standing, overzealous entrance security, and ever-escalating ticket prices. But I don't want to expend all that much energy writing about them myself, so please follow the links for further info.

IRVING PLAZA--17 Irving Place at 15th Street. This place has served various purposes throughout its existence, but unfortunately I haven't been able to track down approximate years for its assorted phases. According to this article, the space dates back to 1911, when it was built inside four converted brownstones. At diverse times the auditorium has functioned as a house of burlesque (legend has it Gypsy Rose Lee displayed her a-peel-ing terpsichorean talents here), a Yiddish theater, a boxing arena, and a Polish dance hall (I seem to recall seeing Polish words on its marquee as recently as the late '80s), among other possible operations. Mid-size rock shows in all manner of genres (the club's capacity is about 2,000) have been its main stock-in-trade since the very late '70s. I wish I'd been old enough to frequent the place in the mid-'80s, when it often featured well-attended gigs by garageniks like (the) Lyres, the Chesterfield Kings, the Fuzztones, the Mosquitoes, the Fuzztones, the Fleshtones, and the Pandoras. But I've managed to catch the Buzzcocks, the Bangles, Madness, Special Beat Service (an amalgamation of members of the Specials and the English Beat), the Soft Boys, Young Fresh Fellows, Dick Dale, Wilson Pickett, and plenty others I'm blanking out on. The downstairs lounge has an opium-den quality, but if you're as short in stature as I am you can't spend much time there lest you lose out on good sightlines on the main floor or in the balcony. Click here for a description of the club from a goth's perspective.

HAMMERSTEIN BALLROOM, 311 W. 34th Street b/w 8th & 9th Avenues. Part of Manhattan Center Studios, a multipupose event and recording facility in operation since 1986. Housed in the former Manhattan Opera House, which was built by Oscar Hammerstein I in 1906, the site has served at various times as a vaudeville house, concert hall, Masonic temple, film scoring studio, radio studio, big band ballroom, and general event hall. Detailed history and and pics are available here and here. While the cavernous (up to 3,700-capacity) auditorium's decor retains a classic, elegant old-timey look, the space is fully equipped with high-tech audio, video, and lighting, and plays host to many events besides its occasional rock shows. Sad to say I've only been able to enjoy these sumptuous surroundings once, at the Joey Ramone memorial concert on what would have been his 50th birthday, May 19, 2001.

ROSELAND BALLROOM, 239 W. 52nd Street b/w Broadway and 8th Avenue. A.K.A. Roseland Dance City, or just plain Roseland. I haven't been there in ages--probably not since the late '80s. I recall it as possessing plenty of old Times Square's tatty-round-the-edges swank, but it may have been modernized since then if the pics at its website are any indication. According to the Times Square Alliance's website, the first Roseland was in Philadelphia, and owned by Louis Brecker and Frank Yuengling (of the Yuengling Brewery family). Brecker opened Roseland's original New York location at 1658 Broadway near 51st Street in 1919. It remained a major venue for dancing (I believe taxi dancing was offered) and big-band jazz (the likes of Count Basie, Bix Beiderbecke, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Guy Lombardo, and Frank Betencourt were often on the bill) until the mid-'50s, when its building was demolished to make way for the City Squire Hotel. Roseland reopened at its current address in 1956, in what had been the Gay Blades Ice Skating Rink. It shuffled on for decades, eventually adding disco to its dance card. In 1977, Merchant-Ivory released Roseland, a poignant film focusing on the hall's dancing denizens. Ballroom dancing supposedly still happens there on Thursdays and Sundays, while the rest of the schedule is given over to parties, corporate events, rotating club nights, and big concerts (maximum standing-room capacity is just over 3,000). Yet another goth perspective can be read here.

Update 6/9/2005--I guess taxi dancing truly was one of Roseland's services. I bought a book called Times Square Style: Graphics From the Great White Way yesterday (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2004), and on page 71 there's a Roseland business card which makes reference to "200 Hostesses, 25 Hosts in Constant Attendance." I should add that my parents had some of their earliest dates at the original Roseland--but as far as I know Moms was not an employee. Ten cents a dance, pansies and rough guys, tough guys who tear my gown...

Friday, June 03, 2005

(Upper) West Side Glory

I'm a bit of a nut for old theaters, and a recent tour I took of Toronto's gorgeous and venerable Elgin/Winter Garden inspired me to investigate one of NYC's last extant movie palaces. Films are rarely shown there these days, but at least it still exists and is in use for somethin'...

BEACON THEATRE--2124 Broadway at 74th Street. Despite its association with Clear Channel, I'd still consider the 2,849-seat Beacon to be one of the finest venues in town for fairly mainstream concerts. I was always particularly pleased when an act I dug was booked there; given the fact that so few cinematic temples of the Beacon's ilk have survived into the present day, the opportunity to see a show in such splendid surroundings felt like a special treat, if not a minor miracle. I've long wondered about the theater's history, and this curiousity was recently satisfied by an entry in Richard Alleman's New York: The Movie Lover's Guide (New York: Broadway Books, 2005--he published a similar volume on Hollywood last year). To my surprise, Alleman reports that the Beacon was originally built under the auspices of legendary impresario Samuel "Roxy" Rothapfel as a smaller cousin to his amazing-colossal-stupendous-(insert your preferred Old Hollywood adjective here) Roxy Theatre at 50th & Seventh Avenue. It was designed by the same architect behind the Roxy, Walter W. Ahlschlager, and was planned to be first in a chain of mini-Roxys throughout the five boroughs. These plans fell through, however, and the new theater instead opened as Warner's Beacon in 1928 (according to most websites; Alleman dates it to 1929). Enthusiasts on the Cinema Treasures website state that the lobby remained a 1/4-scale rendition of the original Roxy's Grand Foyer, but the eight-stories-high auditorium was redesigned to reflect a mixture of Byzantine and Moorish styles, with murals by Danish artist Valdemar Kjoldgaard. Warner's initial policy of first-run features and vaudeville did not turn a profit, so in the early '30s the Beacon was taken over by the Brandt chain and operated as a second-run house. In 1962 it became one of several "Premiere Showcase" theatres in the New York area, but judging from the comments on Cinema Treasures it seems like the place reverted back to second-run and revivival-house status later in the decade. By the '70s, screenings were interspersed with rock concerts. One fellow on Cinema Treasures describes the Beacon as:

the home of the cream of mid size rock concerts since the close of the Fillmore in the early 1970's. Beacon, along with the old Academy of Music on 14th Street were run by the same promoter (whose name fails me at the moment). sometime in the late 1970's John Scher of Metropolitan Entertainment took it over until sometime in the 1980's when Ron Delsner became the promoter. today Clear Channel have there hand in there although Metopolitan continue to promote shows there. but what is probabaly most important is that it is without a doubt the finest venue to enjoy a "rock concert". Beacon audience... best audience anywhere.the room has been our little club house for the psychedelic experence since the demise of the 60's. acts such as the Grateful Dead and Hot Tuna being among the highlights. the Beacon continues to present surviving members of such acts. the energy of those bygone days haunt the auditorium to this day.originally being from NYC myself i attended concerts there from the inception. nights... chaos would rein. i was personally held up at gunpoint by the bouncers at the door. a peace was brokered over time and my friends and i were allowed in without tickets for a good two decades. we saw (without seats) nearly every act to come through the joint. but forget about the scene at the door (if one were a cute young lady she might be permitted entrance without a ticket as well) utter pandemonium would break out as the acts would rock the auditorium to it's foundations. [sic.(!!!)]

Today, the Beacon's opulent (and officially landmarked) interior survives pretty much intact from yesteryear--including an operational Wurlitzer organ. (There are a few pics here, though sadly I couldn't find any of the auditorium). The murals could stand to be cleaned, but most other fixtures seem to be in good condition. Besides its frequent concerts, the Beacon also books dance and theatrical events. I'm not even going to attempt to compile a short list of musicians who have played there, lest I never finish this entry--I'll just mention a few that I've seen. Let's see...there was Billy Bragg a couple of times. I fancied myself a thinking schoolgirl back then, and he was the thinking schoolgirl's crumpet--but I remember that when he prattled on about his newfound joys in fatherhood during that second Beacon show, I could actually feel my fandom slowly dissolve over the wimpiness of it all. The Kinks in 1989--my first live foray into the Kult of Kinkdom, and I had gotten my sixth-row seat earlier that same day! Al Green sometime in the mid-'90s. Brian Wilson in '99 or so--I could tell from my balcony vantage that he really wasn't playing the security-blanket keyboard he sat behind, except maybe during "Love and Mercy." God bless him for going out there, though. I should have gone to one of the Elvis Costello and the Attractions reunion shows ca. '96, but I was still reeling from the memory of seeing him during his early-'90s heavy-and-hirsute period. Jeez, I'm blanking out here. I'm sure there have been other shows, but perhaps not that many others. While I've always enjoyed the appearance and vibe of the Beacon, most of the acts big enough to fill its near-3,000 capacity are unfortunately not to my musical taste.

UPDATE 12/19/2010:  Gosh, my pithy "reviews" of the shows I've seen here were quite snarky, weren't they?  Anyway, I've lately been revisiting's pages on NYC's classic theaters-turned-rock-venues, and I've found that many new posts have been added since I last checked in there.  I have a tendency to keep up with NYC news far more thoroughly than I do news of my current home city, but somehow I missed hearing that within the last few years the Beacon has not only been acquired by Cablevision (which also operates Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall), but has also undergone a major restoration.  Check out these New York Times articles about the renovation and grand-reopening, and be sure to play with the fab 360-degree panorama photo of the now-resplendent auditorium.  See more restoration photos here and here, and check out all the other great links to more historic earlier photos on the Beacon page.  Speaking of history, I recently posted some Village Voice ads and clippings on '70s Beacon rock shows here