Sunday, October 27, 2013

"WHY I HAVE LOU REED’S OLD SUNGLASSES" - a story - I no longer have them. RIP

   (this was an Ebay description ten years ago!)

            One evening late in 1975, Peter Stampfel and I went to a poetry reading down on Reade Street to see Camille O’Grady.  I wanted to see her because Camille had been in our band, the Unholy Modal Rounders, before my time.  I had seen her photo.  She was tall and statuesque, with long black hair and strong shoulders.  I had heard stories from my bandmembers Paul and Kirby: about her singing off key, about her carousing with Peter offstage to the detriment of the performances, and about Paul telling Peter they’d be better off with another guitar player.  The best story was about the night Paul left the stage in the middle of a song because Camille had taken off her shoe and was holding it over Peter’s head, or maybe Peter was holding his shoe over her head?  I imagine you had to be there.  Anyway, for some reason a shoe was taken off and held over someone’s head, and that was it for Paul.  
            So here we were at Camille’s show.  Her paintings lined the walls of a big loft.  They resembled huge tarot cards, and she definitely had a warped talent.  They were all pictures of bare chested guys with beautiful skinny bodies, in torment, run through with swords.  Very Catholic.  Many in the audience wore black leather, and so did Camille. 
            The reading was great.  She had a S & M following, was a cult hero of sorts, and I could see why.  And I could almost picture her in the Rounders - she must have given them a wild Catholic edge.  Her poetry was really good, and she had great stage presence.
            Lou Reed showed up for the reading.  I was impressed.  He dug her work, and a year or two later I saw her open for him at the Bottom Line.  I think that was around the time of “Rock and Roll Heart”, when Michael Fonfara and Don Cherry were in his band.

            After the reading, Lou was hanging around, sitting on the floor with a group of ten people.  Peter said he knew Lou from a long time ago in the Village, so we went over to say hello.  Lou was an idol of mine, big time.
            A chubby black guy in black leather was offering his ass to Lou, saying how great it was.  Lou wasn’t taking him seriously.  Peter managed to butt in, so to speak, I got introduced, and after a little small talk, Lou said that he was interested in Peter’s views on the long range effects of speed.  Lou was doing a study on this subject.  So they made a date to get together at Lou’s house a few weeks later and, just because I was there, I got included in the invitation.  Golly.
            That’s how we got invited to Lou Reed’s house.

            It was just before Christmas.  Lou lived on East 52nd Street, in the block that dead-ended at FDR Drive, overlooking the river.  We walked up the lonely block of giant luxury apartment buildings and found the address.  When we got there, Lou was out, but we were let in by his roommate Rachel, who said we could wait, that he was expected shortly.
            I couldn’t tell if Rachel was a man or a woman.  Low voice, long hair, long fingernails, certain way of walking and sitting...Rachel was a lot like a woman.  Anyway, he or she was both gracious and noncommittal, and so we sat and waited together. 
         The apartment was oddly and sparsely furnished.  They had a tiny dog and a Christmas tree.  The living room in which we sat had a big futon on a low platform, and a table and chairs next to a bookcase full of papers.  We sat on those chairs.  On a tripod by the tree was a new RCA video camera.  By the RCA tv was an RCA vcr and an RCA stereo.  (He’d recently renegotiated his contract with RCA.)  Every room had a digital clock with numbers an inch tall.  The front record in his cluster of albums was Aerosmith’s “Toys in the Attic”, which had come out that year.

            Finally, Lou knocked, Rachel let him in, and he walked through the foyer into the room, wearing aviator sunglasses and carrying shopping bags.  He nodded to Peter, then to me, and told Peter he should have called to confirm the appointment.  Lou had a little time, but not enough to get into the real talk he wanted to have with Peter.  The dog welcomed him home, and he baby talked to it.  He reached into one of the bags and pulled out a plastic package.  He ripped it open and took out a little rawhide bow, a present for the cute little dog, and we watched the dog run around with his new toy. 
         Then he reached in the bag and took out another purchase - a brand new pair of aviator sunglasses.  He grinned, took the ones off his face and tossed them in the wastebasket by the door, and put on the new ones.  He liked them a lot better. 
            He figured we were interested in him, and basically he just talked about himself the whole time.  It turned out the bookcase by the desk was filled with clippings and professional career stuff, and he showed us some.  Peter and I were well behaved, listening attentively and seeing what we were shown.  Peter sat between Lou and I. 
            Lou cackled in glee at the way “Metal Machine Music” was already a collector’s item only a few years after its release.  He was real happy with his new contract.  Then he said he wanted to play us something, and walked over to the record player.  He had two test pressings of “Coney Island Baby”, his album which was about to be released.  On the song “Charlie’s Girl”, he showed us how one of the pressing plants had put the vocals out of phase at one point.  He’d had to call his guy at RCA and get them to stop that plant’s production till they fixed the problem.  He said it was a lucky he had good ears, because if he hadn’t noticed the mistake, nobody else would have, and it would have sounded like that in the final copies.  We listened to it a few times.  I did hear what he pointed out, and we nodded in agreement.
            Very soon after that, Peter said he had to leave to meet someone, and I think I got to stay a little longer - there was a transitional scene as other people showed up and Peter left.  I don’t remember much about the people who came in, but it was a couple, and the woman wore a short fur coat.  Everyone was neat and hip. 
            The only conversation between Lou and me was:    
            Lou said, “What do YOU do?”
            I said, “Play guitar.”
            “So does everybody,” he said.
             I was awestruck and shy.  I sure didn’t tell him I was great.  I didn’t even tell him he was great.  I didn’t say any of the things I wish I had said.
            Then they all decided it was time to go out and get something to eat.  It had gotten dark out.  They were off to the Carnegie Deli.  I had about two dollars in my pocket, so I said I couldn’t go.  We all got our coats, and walked out single-file.  I was at the end of the line.  I looked down as I passed the wastebasket, and there were Lou Reed’s sunglasses.  I thought, “This isn’t garbage, it’s an artifact.”  My arm swooped down, and I dropped them in my pocket.  Nobody saw.
            We walked up the street to First Avenue, and I bid them farewell.  They went off to find a taxi, and I walked for miles, all the way home to Renwick Street, down by the Holland Tunnel.
            I still have the sunglasses.

            [Following is a solicited statement from my friend and former bandmate Peter.]

               Charlie Messing and I visited Lou Reed in 1976. Lou had tossed a
pair of shades into the trash, and Charlie asked if he could have them. Lou smiled and said sure, or go ahead, or some similar affirmation. True story, swear to god, I was there.   
 - Peter Stampfel, Dec. 8, 2005

            This serves to illustrate how two memories of the same evening can differ.  I don’t know if my bragging about the glasses made Peter imagine he’d heard me ask Lou for them, or if for some reason I’ve forgotten that I spoke to Lou about them, and didn’t actually snatch them in secret after Peter left.  There’s no telling now, but these are definitely Lou Reed’s sunglasses from thirty years ago.  I’ve had them in a box all this time, and I’m sure.  I’ve looked at them every year or so to see if they were still there.  These are them.

            PS – This entire story is what I posted on Ebay, with photos of the glasses, and a photo of Lou Reed at the time, wearing them.  Up to the line “I still have the sunglasses”, it was a short story of mine I’d written years before. 
This, as the “description of item”, was my certificate of authenticity – after all, who would make up such a story? 
After a fierce bidding war between two fans, they went off to a guy in Toronto for $250.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


WOW is it great here (as you can tell from the above photo).  The sun is shining, clouds are moving, breeze is blowing, leaves are falling and it’s Sunday afternoon.  I have so much spare time today that I can write this entry.  Will this blog ever become “regular”?  I need something for irregularity.

          The birthday/housewarming party was great. I suppose since I only had a dozen seats, it would have been funny if everyone showed up,  but everyone who was invited but couldn’t come is still invited, anytime.  I have friends, and my life has improved - a wonderful present.

          It’s been quite a week.  Got sick, got well, met Bob Fass, one of my idols – hope he watches my show and responds – also gave him an album.  (See Wiki if his name does not ring a bell!)  Thanks to my old friend Barbara Bernstein-Perrucci for the introduction from afar (FLA).
Saw some good movies at the festival, missed a lot of them…couldn’t be as involved this year.  Usually I volunteer for the panel that selects films and also I volunteer at the Festival itself (Vermont International Film Festival), which gets better every year.  But as I was saying, I was busy moving for two or three months.  I missed most of the Summer.  Not a good thing up here, but I was blessed to be able to move into a nice place in town from a deteriorating situation (and capped it with the first party in years).

To sum up:
I had a swinging funky cheap top-floor apartment (rented condo with the landlord 100 miles away - his only Unit) next to a ravine in the rear corner of a former Army base: Fort Ethan Allen.  I was surrounded by gigantic trees, on a hill overlooking a beaver dam and marsh, a forest with wildlife, the sound of leaves blowing, frogs croaking at night, etc.  It was almost impossible to see the trailer park on the other side of the ravine, and right on the bus-line to town.  (I thought the bus was going to take out my mailbox more than once. About 40 passed on a typical day, counting both directions.)  But - very impressive location, and a nice old house from 1900, with modest but lovely woodwork.  Even a stained-glass window on the landing!  (The stairs were inside the door, which was way at the bottom.)  It’s true nothing was level, and there were no 90 degree angles, but I loved it.
Eight years passed.  My cat got sick and died.  People finally bought the empty place downstairs.  They had it for a few years, painted the whole house blue instead of the faded yellow it had been, moved to the state of Washington, and let a real estate agent sell it.  Finally bought by a young couple who were actually surprised to find out someone lived upstairs.  (?)  My presence irked them (hearing my music and movies).  Their irkness in turn irked me.  Oh well.
A few years ago, we started getting storms with violent winds.  A gigantic 100-year-old Maple fell from the edge of the forest onto our lawn, knocking over five other trees to join it in the front yard.  They covered half the lawn, so it looked a lot worse for a while.  In back, a gigantic tree that had been leaning more and more towards my house through the years slowly fell in the back yard (it took a week, honestly) and finally went down at 1:30 one morning, narrowly missing the house (thank you!), but taking out a few other trees.  That too took a while to cut up and remove.  (Somebody was doing somebody a favor, or something.)
My second neighbor next door had been a friend: a reporter for the biggest local paper – we saw each other almost daily.  But finally he got into an adversarial relationship with his landlady (for good reason) and found somewhere else which was nicer. He has now moved back to Ann Arbor, Michigan in preparation for a six-month tour of India.
Next, his landlady rented that apartment to a young man with a lot of “friends”.  The first night that he slept at his girlfriend’s house, two men came with a U-Haul and removed all his valuable stuff (giant TV, computers, etc.).  He had no idea who could have done it – though it was pretty obvious it was someone who knew he’d be gone (one of his “friends”).  He didn’t learn from this.  He got even more “friends”, and the driveway filled with cars every night of the week.  They parked on a diagonal.  The place was surrounded by empty parking lots (especially on weekends) but they all parked in the driveway (used for the four apartments in the two houses here).  They argued in the driveway.  The new neighbor had to be told when he was blasting music at 3:00 AM: he didn’t notice the time or the volume, because he was drunk.  He then got 3 DUIs.

I forced my own hand when I made up my mind to have a CO Detector.  I mean – it was an old house, with mice in the walls.  I had plenty to complain about.  Accidents could happen; it was a wooden house, and not "up to Code".  I asked the Town to inspect the place.  (I had written to the landlord asking what to do, and he had responded by not responding – for a year, then another, and another.)  So I forced his hand, and thereby my own.  He fixed the electricity problems and got a CO Detector.  Then, he started raising the rent - the same year I started running out of money. 
[Long story short.]
I applied for subsidized housing, and qualified.  I awaited the possibility of moving to a place I could afford.  I started throwing things away.  News finally came a year later, and I was offered a very nice apartment in town.  It’s perfect, in a locked building where one never hears one’s neighbors - a renovated turn of the century factory building solidly made of beams and bricks.  The people are nice, the place is great, and I believe in good luck.  
It's a sort of dream come true.  What can I say - come on over!  Also - never give up.

Sunday, October 13, 2013


(Admittedly, I watched a grainy copy on Youtube)

          I wasn’t there from the beginning like some people (Binky for one) because I was in a folk-rock band; the club was already headed in another direction by 1976.  Nobody I hung around with went there – partly because we were penniless. Finally one of my bands played there in 77 and after that I could get in free most nights; it was a clubhouse once you played there (unless Lisa was at the door). 
First show I saw at CBs was Richard Hell and the Voidoids.  That was when the stage was still on the left side – the right side had the pool table.  Later, the pool table moved to way up near the entrance, on the left, the stage moved back and to the right wall.  I told Bob Quine he was great and he said they (and he) had sucked.  No egotist was he.  Later I saw Ivan Julian and the Outsets (the other guitarist with Hell).
I saw Talking Heads just after Jerry Harrison joined, Patti Smith before she had an album out, The Ramones (how do they memorize these sets?), The Planets (wow!), Tuff Darts (after Robert left, darn it), Wayne County (what?), The Miamis, The Cramps (whoa!), Alex Chilton, The Fall, The Nitecaps, Bad Brains (another jaw-dropper), Blondie, Violent Femmes, etc.  Anybody else remember Humans From Earth, Tragic Flaw, The Erasers, Helen Wheels, Bush Tetras?  All great, all different.  How about “Suicide”?  There was a band he took a chance on!  They were famous for getting booed offstage.  They played there a lot, too. 
Wish I’d seen the Police, Devo or the Butthole Surfers there, but of course most bands who weren’t well-known would play at 2 AM on a weekday night.  I had to work in the morning.  By then, I wasn’t penniless.

The movie – for me it was overwhelmed by the allusion to comics that came from Punk Magazine, and by dwelling on Alan Rickman and his dog so much and the people and music so little.  There were so many kinds of music…DNA, Walter Stedding?  Rhys Chatham?  They had to keep it simple to make it a movie, but I’d have loved some sort of list of bands (not the one too tiny to read which is used in the background at one point).  Does anyone else remember Hilly announcing the acts onstage?  I never saw him do that…I do remember David Byrne shouting (as if there was no microphone in front of his face) “The name of this band is Talking Heads!” which became the name of their first live double album.
Um…I never heard of anyone doing an audition for just the staff – there were Monday Night Auditions every week.  If you had a lot of friends, or were good, you’d be back on a “real” night.  I’ll never forget having to guard our equipment for six hours, from sound-check to show-time.  And if the next band climbed onstage before you were all packed up?  Goodbye wires and pedals…

I heard the Police drew about ten people their first gig there.  (In Austin they got only three, but one was a DJ who started playing “Roxanne” a lot and broke them into having a hit in the States.  A lesson there, eh?)
          I’m not sure the Dead Boys were as dominant a band as it seems they are in the film.  (But watch them live at CBs in 1977 on Youtube – 20 minute set that kicks ass.)  Hilly managed half a dozen over the years, I think.  Remember “The Big Fat Pet Clams From Outer Space”?  He managed them.  They were older guys, and not very original or good.  I thought they sucked.  What was he thinking?
          Hilly was gruff and growly, muttering and shouting, but not as cocky and weaselly as Rickman.  Nice dog.  The shit – ugh.  It could be dark in there, and everything was painted black.  Anywhere it was just sheetrock (like the “dressing room”) was covered in magic-markered band names.  So were the toilets downstairs.  One toilet was smashed or out of order. Men’s room mirror - smashed.  Men’s room door was torn off, never replaced.  It smelled down there…actually you could smell it almost as soon as you passed the stage on your way back.
          Just inside the front door was a bottle-neck space for customers to get their money out, show their IDs, and pay at a little table and chair.  (Coat check?) Pay phone to the right, pinball machine right behind ticket-taker.  Very long bar.  Lead singer of The Revelons, another great band, was a bartender.

          No mention of the “Live at CBGBs” double album produced by Kim King?  It sold a bunch!  Lot of good bands on it – Miamis, Mink DeVille, Tuff Darts (with Robert!), and a few others.  But no Ramones, Blondie or Heads – already signed, so no go.
          Odd, the music they chose for some scenes.  First time we see Patti Smith she does “Because the Night”?  That was years later.  No keyboard visible on that or on Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer”, though you can hear one…
          I remember lots of lights and deafeningly loud bands – hard to get that effect in a movie - probably impossible. And the crowd right up to the stage on both available sides – people hanging off the walls (standing on pipes and on each other) and those odd life-sized posters of people like Sarah Bernhardt and Chaplin onstage became more and more covered with graffiti.  No stickers on the walls for decades, as Jahn mentioned. That place got Packed on a busy night.  Wall to wall people, all night.  Lucky thing it had a high ceiling (which we don’t see in the movie) cause the smoke didn’t hang right in your face (everyone smoked back then). 
          No mention of him investing in a $100,000 sound system and equipment to tape live shows.  Best sound of any club in the city.
          Too bad they didn’t have someone play James Chance or Lydia Lunch!  I suppose they’d have to pay a fortune to mention The Plasmatics, who were one of their biggest draws.  They didn’t mention the marathon all-weekend benefit show to raise money for Johnny Blitz’s hospital bill!  There was a commemorative t-shirt – saw it for years after.  It had a list of all the bands on it – dozens of the best.  Must be worth a dollar now!  Faded in the wash, I suppose…

          There was quite a while when a band had to make a choice – if you played at Max’s you couldn’t play CBs, and vice-versa.  Heartbreakers were Max’s, Sid Vicious was Max’s, Iggy was Max’s.  (And by the way, in “Sid and Nancy” they show Sid doing shows to an empty house near the end – never happened!  The place was packed every show, all the way to his last.)
          So – I enjoyed the movie up to a point, but I kept seeing Rickman and his dog instead of things I was more interested in.  A boy and his dog.  
Dennis Dunn, unmentioned ace lighting man, I salute you!  (He was there for years – and his brother was sound man a long time.)  So was Rudy (of The Hard).  I salute you all.
          I do hope the Kristals make money from the movie.  It was one of the great clubs, and we’ll ne’er see its like again.  Here’s to Hilly and the 70s!  Gone, gone, they are gone.