Television was the first band to play CBGB. That fact was not lost on the Rough Trade music venue when opening night was scheduled.
It was also not lost on me. I had to be there. I would be there. Maybe I would be there.
Spoiled by easy access to internet scalping, decisions were put off. Stay or go. Friday or Saturday. There’s only one opener but the second night somehow seemed more alluring.
Then, apparent disaster. Stubhub had zero tickets. On Craig’s List, there were reports of counterfeits. Some were explaining that due to a will-call policy, reselling was almost impossible. Others claimed to have tickets in hand. It was time to sweat. What was the actual scenario? The answer was in Williamsburg, a subway stop away.
Rough Trade is a hole in the wall of huge warehouse almost on the East River. The interior is impressive, at least at first. There’s a huge room, all corrugated walls and distant ceilings. Lovely, shiny LP covers fill this space.
Then the realization.This is it. This is the successor to Tower Records. One room, a few bins. It might indeed be the biggest record store in New York in terms of empty space, and it certainly is the place to get your Black Friday Record Store Day Lana Del Ray picture disc, but for music, try the rest of Williamsburg, or the East Village, or the West Village. Or just get down to J&R. They really have it all. Oh yeah.
A line had started to form within this steely structure. People were waiting to get in. A quick poll of the future attendees produced an explanation. Both camps were right. Some would have to go to will call but many already had ducats. Where there tickets, there would be sellers. I was as good as in.
There was time to kill. A river to gaze upon. A shirt to stain with pizza.
Back at the shop things were happening. Suddenly tickets “held at the box office” were available. There would be no bargaining, no schemes. I was in at list price.
I had never seen Television, a group that some – or maybe just me – called the punk Allman Brothers for its twin lead guitar attack. The closet calls were an almost forgotten solo show by now former member Richard Lloyd and a somewhat recent appearance by Tom Verlaine as a member of Patti Smith’s band. She was opening for Bob Dylan. Bob was off; she was on. Verlaine’s vibrato was a thrill
The Rough Trade venue is nice but small. It did not seem majestic enough. Soon they wandered out on stage. And meandered. Verlaine’s guitar cable was tangled. He enlisted a patron to sort it out and then fiddled with his Vox combo. New guitarist Jimmy Rip had the same amp. The stage seemed sparse.
Eventually the cable was straightened out and Verlaine led them into the arms of Venus de Milo. All was right. I remembered the Bangles doing this as an encore of yore. Yet it seemed a lack presence. You could hear but not feel it. The place was packed and the amps small. Fred Smith played his Precision with a pick; drummer Billy Ficca appeared overly polite. But they gained momentums and swung through the familiar – “Prove It,” “I See No Evil” – and kept the bar busy through the rest.
Finally, “Marquee Moon” rose on the horizon. Verlaine mesmerized, Rip harmonized. This was indeed a Television show.
Forty years later, they had christened another another club. I am a witness.
Gene Clark was definitely “The Byrd Who Flew Alone,” as the compelling new DVD that unravels his complex story is titled.
He was also the one who flew under the radar, which is why I surprised to see the disc on a shelf at Other Music in the East Village. I knew of its existence but figured like most things that surrounded the Tambourine Man, it would be hiding out in some corner of the Internet as it drifted into the lore of the band and its mysterious songwriter.
Yet there it was and thus it went, quickly hopping into the dusty player I barely remembered how to operate. But I got it spinning and made the proper selection and well … for anybody interested in American rock ‘n roll, and particularly in its first and greatest exponent, this disc is a heartbreaking must.
From the first rare glimpse of animated Clark leading his mates through an early non-lip synched version of “Feel A Whole Lot Better” to his drawn out doom, this DVD portrays the life a true artist like No Other.
Few sources are left unturned. David Crosby is almost rational … almost. Roger McGuinn is practically emotional. Chris Hillman, who shared Clark’s country boy roots, provides the most insight among his former feathered friends but sources – brother, sister, wife, sons, bandmates, producers – all combine to try to explain the seeds of his genius, the mysteries of his life and the designs of his demons. And there are a surprising number of performances, starting with a jaw dropping look at him as an inspirational New Christy Minstrel.
I saw Gene Clark twice, the first time when he was a member of McGuinn, Clark and Hillman. Their record company enforced pseudo-disco approach did not showcase Gene or do much for me.
The second time I saw Clark he was the leader of the loosely titled “Twentieth Anniversary Tribute to the Byrds.” Those days are detailed by John York, a member of the that amalgamation and a Byrds bassist for two albums and longtime Clark collaborator. My recollection of the show at the Lone Star was that Gene looked like a worn out farmer and had the presence of prophet. To see him launch into “Eight Miles High” at five feet away was transcendent.
Like all decent American lads, the Byrds were a part of my musical upbringing. At 12, I was playing the bass intro of “Mr. Tambourine Man” with my fellow Ravens. By senior year of high school I was in a Byrds-themed band that twice played before over a thousand people. Two members of that group are my bandmates today, the keyboardist then is our producer now and the drummer from that high school group has provided percussion on one of our recordings.
It was a Gene Clark fan club contest that led me back to playing. I had not touched the bass in at least 20 years but I thought we could put a group together and enter. I even took lessons. Unofficially, we “won.” The Gene Clark covers we did were impressive enough to be played on the radio and get us hooked up with a real record company. We have recorded a Byrds song for them previously but we are now working on a Gene Clark classic. It’s been a while but we Don’t Care About Time.
I own one CD by the Soft Boys, the popish folkish psychish outfit he led (maybe Kimberly Rew would argue with that). I know I have Hitchcock but I am into the fifth month of “I just moved and everything is in boxes.”
The association with Robyn Hitchcock though not with recordings but the radio.
I became something of a full-time WFMU listener in 2000. Working nights and driving in, I found if i got it earlier and sat in car, I could be assured of a space and over-air time.
It was on one such dimming day in 2002 that the station broadcast a Soft Boys reunion live from across the almost-in-sight river. The group was clever, catchy, dreamy, sort of Syd Barrett leading the Byrds. The lasting impact though was the realization that this was happening live, in perfect sound and engulfing atmosphere. Freeform forever and ever amen.
Which brings us to this year and Irene Trudel‘s program for an episode she dubbed the “First Robyn of Spring.”
Hitchock’s swirling psychedelic presence is perfect for Irene’s moody Mondays and we reach a peak with his version of his “favorite Bob Dylan song.”
It’s “Visions Of Johanna.”
One host, one guest, a lot of reverb.
It’s wonderful. It’s everything.