It was July of 1984 when we got the gig: one set at CBGB's, along with several other bands (Robert Crenshaw's band The Tall Boys was there that night also).
We got to Manhattan in the early afternoon. I found I liked driving in New York City; there were so many cars in such a small area, and everyone paid attention to the traffic signals.
In Charlotte, the light turns green, and the first person in line looks up and moves. The second person, having stared at the first car's bumper the entire time the light has been red, notices it has appeared to move and presses the gas pedal. This passes down the line of cars, which move like a giant Slinky toy, usually leaving me at the red light.
In Manhattan, everyone is looking at the light. When it turns green you had better be moving or you'll get a car horn to remind you. These people are efficient, and they do not conceal their displeasure with fake courtesy the way Southerners do. Also, I found out (when coming out of the Lincoln Tunnel and merging into traffic): whoever makes eye contact loses.
CBGB's was not in the best part of town--the Bowery, Bleeker Street..don't those names conjure up an image? It was of course a dive, but a famous dive in the City That Never Sleeps.
The club had the aroma of last night's beer and cigarette smoke that most clubs have before the lights come on and the audience reboots the program. It's the smell of possibility, and everyone who's played here before in this grimy church of rock 'n' roll has felt it. The Ramones. Television. Blondie and the Velvet Underground. The place reeked of New York City sweat.
The back rooms were covered with layers of graffiti thicker than the drywall beneath. I walked down a dark hallway and peeked into a side room to see a drunk, bottle by his side, hat covering his face, sleeping on the bare floor. After examining the bathrooms, I made a note to find less toxic facilities.
We had a quick soundcheck; the competent and properly bored NY sound man told us when to be back for the gig, and we went exploring the neighborhood.
Ah, the sidewalks of New York. A scary guy got my attention, and when I made the mistake of stopping, he leaned in close and whispered a cartoon Zen koan: "It's all Franklin Roosevelt's fault." I nodded, and we parted, perhaps not friends, but at least with mutual misunderstanding.
The show. The band had been playing a lot, and we were very tight. You can hear it on the recording: the excitement of playing our own songs in New York for the first time. We ran through many of the tunes from Beat Music, and ended with "The Monkees Theme," a bit of cheeky fun, poking at the hipness of CBGB's. I remember saying "I'll bet this is the first time this song has ever been played here..."
Then it was back on the road, a 12 hour trip to Charlotte.
We would play NYC several times after that, but that first gig is the one I remember the best.
Oh, and the drunk in the side room? he was still there in the same position, 6 hours after our sound check, right before we took the stage. I was sure he was dead, and walked over and poked his arm, frightened at the thought of touching a corpse.
It was a dummy. I still wonder how many people took the bait....
- Steve Stoeckel