I guess it was 1994 or so, and some guy was crowding right behind me into the single bathroom stall at Maxwell’s nightclub in Hoboken. People always complained about the filthy bathroom at CBGBs, but at least no one was serving food at CBs. At Maxwell’s, the bathroom facilities always consisted of one overworked toilet and a urinal with a trash can liner taped over it because it was out of order. This at a venue that combined a 200-person-capacity live music space AND a restaurant, with two bar areas.
“Little personal space here,” I said wearily.
“Don’t worry,” the guy behind me said. “I won’t tell anyone how small your dick is.”
I looked over my shoulder at my stall-mate. “Mojo!” I said. “What’s up? Pleased to meet ya.”
“Is it okay if we don’t shake hands?” Mojo said. “I’m gonna pee on your leg, if you don’t hurry up there.”
Mojo Nixon had just completed a perfunctory sound check on the tiny stage in the back room. It had been some years since Mojo’s late-80s MTV heyday, and there were probably 40 patrons in the bar, a half hour before showtime. Nobody really cared who was stuffing Martha’s muffin, anymore. I didn’t have a ticket to the show, but I rarely had a ticket to any show at Maxwell’s. Usually I’d wander over from my apartment at 8th and Garden, walk into the front bar, and listen in to the first few songs being played on stage. If I liked what I heard, I might push through the swinging doors that divided front and back areas, hand $8 to a girl sitting on a stool behind a cigar box filled with cash, get my wrist stamped, and see the show. Such was the case with Mojo Nixon, who may or may not have been there with his band the Toadliquors. I can’t remember.
While we waited for my shy bladder to empty, we talked about Skid Roper (“He don’t wanna tour no more. It gets to be a grind, you know?”), the acoustics in Maxwell’s back room (You can’t polish a turd.”), and song requests (He couldn’t remember ever playing “Positively Bodie’s Parking Lot” live; he didn’t remember how it went.)
That’s how it was at Maxwell’s. There was no back stage, no dressing room, no VIP area. If you got to a show an hour early, the familiar-looking guy seated three stools down probably was, in fact, Jon Langford or Tommy Stinson. If you were crammed into the claustrophobic front ranks around the stage and some guy was trying to elbow his way past you, chances were pretty good it was Bob Mould or Lou Barlow or Greg Dulli, trying to get to the stage to start the show.
I was in Maxwell’s last Friday, July 5th, for the first time in fifteen years, at least. I was there to see the Feelies, a band I had never seen despite having listened to their records for decades. Mostly I was there to say goodbye to Maxwell’s, which is closing for good on July 31st. I walked in during the third song of the Feelies’ set, which was, no surprise, a cover of Lou Reed’s “Who Loves the Sun.” There’s still a girl on a stool, though there was no cash in the cigar box. The show had been sold out for weeks. I never got far enough out onto the floor, through the crush of bodies, to even gain a sight line to the stage.
I lived in Hoboken from 1992 to 1996. Before that, I’d lived in Jersey City from 1989 to 1992, at a time when there was nothing at all in Jersey City, and you’d have to take the PATH to Hoboken or NYC just to find something to do. In Hoboken, I lived in a top-floor, shotgun-style apartment that was heated entirely by the stove in the kitchen. My rent was $800 a month, and I paid it to an Italian guy, Luciano, who also rented to a couple of family members and at least a couple of former mistresses. (The two mistresses liked to leave foul-smelling bags of garbage outside each others’ doors.) It was a great place to live from March through November of the year. I had easy access to the roof, plenty of floor space for leftover party guests to sleep on, easy access to NYC, and a ten-minute walk to about 3,000 bars. A lot of those bars (Hobson’s Choice, Liquid Lounge, Uve’s, Oddfellow’s Rest) are long gone, some still exist but are so changed inside as to be unrecognizable (Shannon Lounge, Sullivan’s, Louise and Jerry’s), and one (Maxwell’s) hasn’t changed one bit.
In retrospect, I should have picked a different night to go, when Maxwell’s would have been less crowded. (Holy crap, the A-Bones still exist! And they’re opening for the Fleshtones on Wednesday.) A less crowded night would have been far more representative of a typical mid-90s night at Maxwell’s for me. The best thing about Maxwell’s in those days was that you could walk in off the street on a Tuesday and be one of twenty people to see a band (Cindy Lee Berryhill, Flowerhead, the Fiendz, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin) you never heard of before, for $8. Or walk in, order a $2 draft, play a Carl Perkins song on the jukebox, and walk out. It was a great place, made even greater if you could get into the men’s room.
As it was, I saw the Feelies because I knew the July 4th weekend represented my best shot at getting a parking spot and a table at Margherita’s on Washington and 8th without having to wait 90 minutes. (Margherita’s STILL doesn’t take reservations.) So I wandered around, marveled at how upscale the town has gotten in 15 years (So many baby strollers! So many chic little bistros!), peeked into a few old haunts, and went to the show. I heard some great Feelies songs, saw the backs of a lot of peoples’ heads (Are people getting taller these days?), got stepped on a lot, and had two cups of beer spilled on me. I bought a Maxwell’s T-shirt on the way out, so I could take my wet, beer-smelling shirt off.
Now Maxwell’s is leaving us, and I can’t say I feel all that badly about it. Everything has its place and its time, and I couldn’t help but notice at Friday’s show that the people standing around me looked just like me. Guys in their 40s and early 50s, in short-sleeved polos and shorts, looking a little uncomfortable amid the heat, the body odor, and the noise.
Good things go away, it’s true. And it’s only sad until you remember that they’ve been replaced by other, newer good things that you know nothing about, because you’re a 50-year-old guy in a short-sleeved polo, checking his cellphone and being amazed that it’s still only 10:15. Jeez, it felt so much later.
Related: The Store With the Friendly Spirit
Related: Reflections in Compressed Time