Goodbye, Maxwell’s!

Feelies, Maxwell's, Night Clubs, Hoboken

 

 

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.”

The Hoboken View From the Roof of 8th and Garden St.

The Hoboken View From the Roof of 8th and Garden St.

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. Continue reading

Topics for Further Discussion: The Last Time

 

Huey Newton, Black Panther Party, American politics, revolution, Bicentennial MinuteThe last Bicentennial Minute was broadcast on CBS-TV on December 31, 1976 at 8:57 PM EST. It was narrated by black activist Huey Newton, who asked Americans to “fight the oppressors of our modern slave state, down to the last bullet and bomb, just like George fucking Washington.”

The last $1 Video Rewind Fee was paid by Steven Blakely at a Blockbuster Video in Scobeyville, New York on November 2, 2000. The video was a VHS copy of Turner & Hooch (Touchstone, 1989).

The last validated instance of one person interjecting “That’s what she said!” into a conversation and eliciting a laugh occurred on February 12, 1997 in a Steak & Ale franchise in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The statement that precipitated the witty rejoinder was “This piece o’ meat ain’t worth no $8.95!”

The last sports contest played at New York’s Polo Grounds was a wrestling match that pitted former Detroit Lions defensive tackle Alex Karras against an American brown bear. The three-round match, which was televised on ABC-TV’s Wide World of Sports on July 22, 1964, was won by the bear on points, 22-13.

The last unicorn died of dehydration in a sumptuously appointed third-floor bedroom in the Neverland estate of recording artist Michael Jackson on June 12, 1992. The animal’s existence was known to four people on Earth (Mr. Jackson, the child actor Macauley Culkin, and the animal’s two full-time caretakers, Wanda Jefferson and her daughter, Duchess.) The animal died as a result of Mr. Jackson’s decision to terminate the employment of two-thirds of his estate’s staff on June 6, 1992, based on the advice of his astrologer. Continue reading

Waiting for The End Of The World

John of Patmos, Book of Revelation, End Times, James, Pater, Paul, Jesus

Saint John on the Island of Patmos

 

 

The next time you’re feeling vexed about American voters’ inability to think clearly about energy dependence or global warming or just building a damned train tunnel from New Jersey to New York, remind yourself that 22% of Americans believe the world will end during their lifetimes. It’s hard to get people to participate in long-range planning when they’ve got their suitcases packed for the Rapture.

Everyone wants to live in interesting times, I suppose. No one wants to die for nothing, just like the other guy. Prophesizing the end of the world is good business and it always has been, whether you’re selling papal indulgences, Mayan crystals or King James Bibles. It was good for Adventist founder William Miller in the 1840s and it sells books to this day for Hal Lindsey. Lately, Glenn Beck has gotten into the apocalypse business and radio evangelist Harold Camping and his family are said to have made millions promulgating the End Times.

Lately I’ve been reading Elaine Pagels’ “Revelations: Visions, Prophecy & Politics In The Book Of Revelation.” The Book of Revelation is the exciting book at the end of the New Testament with the breaking of the seven seals, the whore of Babylon, the Four Horsemen, the beast with ten horns and seven heads, exploding volcanoes, and that 666 number of the beast. The whole apocalypse blow-by-blow calendar of events. It was written by a Jewish militant and follower of Christ exiled to the island of Patmos (off the coast of what is now Turkey) by the Romans in C.E. 90. John of Patmos was one of many Jews of that era radicalized and embittered by the slaughter of thousands of Jews and the destruction of the Great Temple at Jerusalem by the Roman army in C.E. 70.
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For Those Of You Scoring At Home

 

The other day, my wife reminded me that we had attended the May 14, 1996 game in which Dwight Gooden, then with the Yankees, had no-hit the Seattle Mariners. She didn’t remember all those details. I had to look them up. All she remembered was me patiently explaining—and explaining some more—the importance of Gooden’s achievement as the last outs were recorded. Monica and I were new to each other then, having met the previous fall.

How odd that I would forget that. It’s certainly the only baseball game of any historical significance I ever witnessed. I can dimly remember it now that I’ve been prodded to do so. (In an an odd statistical anomaly, no New York Met has ever thrown a no-hitter in their 49-year history, though two former Mets, Dwight Gooden and David Cone, have thrown no-hitters for the Yankees.)

I loved baseball as a boy. We played it eight months of the year, March through October, on the street in front of our house, in the municipal fields of our town, and in Little League. My father took me to games at Yankee Stadium. In March, when the new schedules were printed, I would study the tiny print of the little twice-folded piece of glossy paper, looking for TV games. In those days, the early to late  ’70s, WPIX-TV out of New York might show 45 to 50 games in a season, with a few others appearing on NBC’s (or, later, ABC’s) Monday Night Baseball. All the other games were relegated to the radio, which in those days meant WMCA, a very-low-wattage station at the very bottom of the AM dial. I can remember listening to games with my ear pressed flat to the speaker of my mother’s clock radio, my fingers making infinitesimal tweaks of the tuning dial to maintain some whisper of the play-by-play amid the rising and falling background tide of static.
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Ray Bradbury at 90

When Ray Bradbury misses, he misses by a mile. This propensity springs, in large part, from the man’s amazing productivity. Ray Bradbury has been writing every day, at the pace of roughly a completed story per week, since 1932. He has never been the kind of guy who agonizes over revisions or censors his worst impulses. He writes stories, sets them free to sink or sail, and moves on. Some of the tales that proved seaworthy are among the greatest stories ever written in English.

In the beginning, he wrote this way because he wrote to eat. His earliest stories filled the pages of a self-published fanzine called Futuria Fantasia (which he produced in print runs of 100 or less and sold on street corners). Later, he started placing his stories in pulp story digests like Super Science Stories, Dime Mystery, and Weird Tales. In the 1940s, his stories were being anthologized, and in 1950 his first collection, The Martian Chronicles, was published. Ray had arrived.

But he never changed the way he wrote. The decades passed, the demands on his time multiplied exponentially, and Bradbury still wrote every day, still wrapped up a story more or less every week. This approach to writing is anathema to mainstream fiction writers today, who are taught to obsess over every participle and pronoun. Top-tier MFA programs teach writers to re-write and re-write and re-write, to workshop those results, and then re-write some more. The inevitable result of all this relentless fine-tuning and focus-grouping is a marketplace full of novels that all read the same.

Bradbury never sands the rough edges off his fiction. He is never dour or difficult or obscene for art’s sake. He never shies away from topics or themes that his more jaded contemporaries might deem too sentimental or maudlin. Even his worst stories convey the sense of an author who is absolutely unafraid of taking chances or of looking foolish. His stories always sound like Ray Bradbury and no one else.
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Idols Melting in the Summer Sun

Pale and hungover and hiding behind enormous black sunglasses, they looked small in the full light of day. Indeed, stranded in the wilds of New Jersey, they were looking around themselves as if they had never before seen the full light of day.

The few mentions their Lollapalooza sets received in the music press that year would inevitably make some reference to “vampires caught out after dawn.” But the truth was, they didn’t look like anything so glamorous. They looked lost and forlorn.

The Reid brothers had always snubbed the conventions of rock star bombast. Early Jesus and Mary Chain shows in 1985 and 1986 had lasted twenty minutes or less, the Reids playing the entire time with their backs to the audience. Their first singles had been delayed by the Reids’ insistence that they be pressed with a ramshackle “Jesus Fuck” tune on their B-sides. Their drummer’s kit for those early shows consisted of two tiny snares, the bass player’s instrument had only two strings. Their music had been approvingly described as the sound of someone in another apartment down the hall, playing the Velvet’s “Sister Ray” at maximum volume while also shearing sheets of aluminum with a table saw. And the people—which in the Chain’s case meant the London music press, then the London club scene, then Anglophile college-radio geeks in America—ate it up.
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Reflections In Compressed Time

Jennifer Ringley of JenniCam ponders the future in 1997

The other day, I got a poke. A Facebook poke.

And I thought, god, that really takes me back. All the way back to, well, August. Jeez, those were the days.

I can’t really blame the author of the poke for being behind the times. He’s a guy I knew in college twenty-some years ago and he lives in Japan. They do things differently out there. Friendster, it’s said, is still very popular in Pacific Rim countries like the Philippines.

At any rate, I was struck by just how distant the era of the Facebook poke seemed to me. I had a similar reaction to Ondi Timoner’s We Live In Public, a documentary account of the meteoric rise and precipitous fall of Josh Harris, one of the first e-commerce instant millionaires of the mid-90s. It was Harris who first postulated that web culture would lay waste to mainstream media and that we would be streaming our lives in real time over the Internet, with little regard for privacy. Unfortunately, he conceived these ideas in a world of beep-blooping dial-up modems and single-frame-per-second image streaming, so his innovations (and his creepy webcam surveillance experiments) earned him more notoriety than respect.

This was during an era when it was still possible to become an instant celebrity by merely turning a webcam on yourself. I can still remember plugging my first Gateway PC into the wall in 1997 and enduring the interminable wait for my modem to connect to the Internet so I could watch Jennifer Ringley of JenniCam sit at her desk and file her nails. Millions were enthralled. The future arrived and then became the distant, hazy past in a matter of months.
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The Store With The Friendly Spirit

Photo © Frank H. Jump

When it opened in 1911 on a 23-acre city block between Broad Street and Halsey Street in downtown Newark, the Hahne & Company department store was home to over 400,000 square feet of selling space on five floors. It contained more than two acres of plate glass windows, had a formal dining room (The Pine Room), and was arranged around a massive atrium that occupied the center of the building from the first floor through the fourth. It was dubbed “The Store With The Friendly Spirit.” Two thousand people worked there.

By the time I arrived at its employees’ entrance on a gray, snow-spitting day in February of 1988, hardly anybody worked there. Hahne’s was a vast gloomy cave that smelled powerfully of rotting carpet and draperies. To get to the advertising department, I had to walk up three deactivated wooden escalators to the fourth floor and across a vast open space littered with fallen ceiling tiles and lighting fixtures. The advertising department was located in the rear area of the fourth floor and occupied itself primarily with creating ads that ran in the Newark Star-Ledger and Bergen Record. The tagline at the foot of those ads read “Hahne’s, A New Jersey Tradition.” But it was a tradition on its last legs.
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Sick-Day Soap Opera Afternoons

In my mind, soap operas are forever linked with a flushed, overheated feeling of low-grade fever, the briny taste of chicken noodle soup, and the peculiar impossibility of ever getting quite comfortable while lying on a living room couch, no matter how many times you’ve arranged and rearranged your pillows and blankets.

When I read today that CBS has cancelled the last of the old Proctor & Gamble soaps, ‘As The World Turns,’ I immediately experienced again that metallic cherry taste of Robitussin cough syrup and that damp, clammy feeling of a water bottle gone cool against your chest. I remembered, too, the magic and wonder conveyed by the first bulky, rotary-dialed cable decoder box ever to sit on top of our family TV. Spiderman cartoons on Philadelphia TV! Home Box Office movies in the middle of the day! Oh, the future had arrived and it was going to be very, very good.
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Stop The Presses

No longer at a curbside near youThere are two monthly scheduled curbside pick-ups of recyclables in my town. On the second Tuesday morning of each month, an enormous blue toploader makes its way slowly up and down the streets, alternately roaring, wheezing and groaning at the application of accelerator, clutch and brake. It stops at every house and two men drag barrel after barrel of cans, bottles, and household plastics away from the curb toward the truck, emptying the contents of each into a rear-mounted conveyor. The conveyor fills rapidly and is then hoisted hydraulically into the air and rotated, so that its payload can rain down amid a thunderous clamor into the toploader’s interior. It’s a long, laborious and loud undertaking that virtually precludes sleeping late on that particular morning.

On the fourth Tuesday of every month, the same big blue toploader cruises the streets of our town, braking only for stop signs and foolhardy squirrels. Usually, you have to be specifically listening for it, to even recognize that it has come and gone. The same two guys who endure a back-breaking day of frantic labor on the second Tuesday of each month have it easy on the fourth Tuesday. They hardly need disembark from their truck at all. It’s newspaper/magazine recycling day in my town.

The current recession has been particularly tough on newspapers. Dailies in Denver, Seattle, San Francisco, and other cities have closed shop for good, while flagship publications like the Washington Post, LA Times, and Boston Globe are bleeding to death. Once-popular magazines like Time, Newsweek, and the New Yorker aren’t doing any better. Once it’s all over, what will be left? My guess is, the two “papers of record,” The New York Times and The Washington Post. One center-left paper, one center-right paper.
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