"...rock and roll comes down to myth; there are no 'facts.'"
I remember this morning still as clear as a bell and I can still hear the "noise" that awoke me so rudely on this morning, a spring morning when I lived on Greenwich Street in a 2nd-floor loft in a building that had been, and I loved the fact, a butter and egg wholesale house--I started calling myself the Butter & Egg Man in the neighborhood main bar that was my hangout; hell, it was my office and I paid more rent at that bar than I paid for the loft that I was nearly never in--on Greenwich just off Spring Street in a lower Manhattan once chocked full of docks and warehouses and bars just below West Houston (pronounced "How-ston" for you Texas illiterates who pronounce it "Huooston"--I don't think this Houston is old General Sam, though it certainly could be a Yankee relative of his--"Now wait'a min-it, boy, the old Gen'ral would refute that thar statement about him having Yankee relatives. Gen'ral Sam had no Yankee relatives. Got that!")--just below West Houston and Canal in an area we called BLOHO but that has now, I'm happy to say, been rescued by Manhattan's millionaires and money-pooling land developers (all friends of our billionaire mayor) and turned into a "choicey" WHITE neighborhood--a neighborhood first ruined by the nouveau riche jackoffs from Saturday Night Live John Belushi and Dan Hemorrhoids who bought up a whole bunch of the old properties in that area, those that eventually gave rise to the Washington Street housing for middle-class whites down around Prescott to Warren streets and then further ruined when City College built a huge max-tacky college unit that matched the max-tacky housing project that loomed around it to drowned out the wonderful old New York City tin facade factory buildings and the huge former printing industry buildings with their elaborate but cheap-ass tin architecture--you can trace these tin-facaded buildings all the way up downtown Broadway on up to the West 30s where sits the oldest building on Broadway--hey, I know, I live in it.
Good ole Bob DiNiro who was hot shit in the late seventies scoring his millions off Raging Bull, a damn good movie I a movie hater must admit, and his later millions'a-bucks-a-movie scores and this F-ing actor son of a bitch started buying loft buildings like mad, especially below Canal in what was called TRIBECA (The Triangle Below Canal--or, as we said, "Three Blocks Below Canal") and old Bob took over TriBeCa (the proper way to present these abbreviations--like SoHo, NoHo (North of Houston Street), our own BloHo, and TriBeCa) along with the asshole, creepy, and totally pompously phony Cristo the overblown artist of total asinine exaggeration in his attempt to cover up the natural beauty of the US landscape with his ultra-tacky nylon waste-of-money art extravaganzas--and the silly bastard made millions off this crap--like wrapping art museums, his favorite scheme, or his Central Park flags--filthy flapping pieces of plastic crap in crappy colors that matched the flaming orange hair of his harridan wife--all paid for by the Citizens of New York City at the artistic enthusiastic backing of our little man billionaire mayor to whom money rules the world and he wants money to rule Manhattan--Manhattan for the wealthy is his motto. Today the cabdrivers in NYC are going to strike--not all of them but especially the huge number of Indian and Pakistani cabdrivers, most of them maybe illegal--or on overextended green cards. They are striking because the billionaire mayor has decided every cab must now in their backseats have a screen containing a teevee and advertisements and a Global Positioning System--you know a map for the riders to find out where the hell they are--obviously not needed by a New Yorker who really knows this city--a system also used by Homeland Security and the NYPD to track illegal aliens and terrerists (oooooh they try so hard to scare hell out of us--a real New Yorker ain't scared of nothing, especially a building blowing up or exploding or a Con-Ed facility blowing to bits or catching fire (hell, the Croatians blew up 40+ travelling innocents after putting a bomb in baggage storage area out at LaGuardia Airport back in the Off-the-Pigs early seventies))--hey we know these citizens, illegal or not, drive cabs--and MUSLIMS--hey, we know they drive cabs--and also, these devices now allow a rider to pay his fare with a credit card. Holy shit; even I can see where that's bypassing the driver in terms of his getting the cash money handed to him over the seat--plus he gets his tip in cash, too, but NO, says the Taxi Commish--a bunch of Teamsters mobster types probably--these are necessary for tourists and the millionaire execs who our little billionaire mayor wants to cater to. He's trying all sorts of silly schemes to get off Manhattan's streets and out of Manhattan apartments blacks, Latinos, bums, scumbags, poor whites (white trash to his little Boston ass--and I always said the god-damn Kennedy clan was one of the greatest examples of American White Trash there was--but hell I'm on a roll I never intended to go on--and on and on and on, etc).
Meanwhile, back on this spring morning just off Spring Street in my BloHo loft in 1979. I'm positive I had been hanging out until 4 in the am at the Ear Inn, my hangout, just around the corner from my loft on Spring (now overwhelmed by a horribly architectually filthy ugly glass and concrete slab and aluminum outrageous hi-rise luxury apartment building--with those precious multimillion dollar views--built by white trash scumbag and pompous silly asshole Donald Trump (he's trumped the citizens of New York's asses so many times it unbelievable). I'm amazed at how only a very few family outfits own most of the buildings in NYC--Harry Helmsley was the champ--then there are the Tisches--the Rockefellers, of course, Jesus, no wonder the low-life building owners, the rat bastard Jewish landlords and the Chinese boatpeople landlords are selling off their properties for pitiful millions of dollars to these foreign-money-backed assholes)--I just can't get back to this spring morning I'm waking up on back in 1979...
Anyway, I'm sure I had been at the Ear Inn until it closed at 4 am, sitting at the bar knocking back shots of Murphy's Irish Whiskey (my crowd supported the Murphy's Irish Whiskey distillery and when we stopped drinking Murphy's, they went out of business--I kid you not) while my best friend the bartender tallied up the take and put the cash drawer in the safe, locked up, closed the security gate and locked it, and then we stumbled off to our separate homes to sleep most of the next day. So I'm sure that morning was like any other morning when I was sound asleep having beermares (Jack Kerouac's term) until all of a SUDDEN--WOW, I came into a hypnogogic state thinking I was in an earthquake--the bed shaking, me shaking, my head buzzing, my time way off, my brain still asleep, my tongue dry as a bone--GAWD! I'm dyin' I HOWLED (like Ginsberg's poem)--calamity--and then as I shook awake--shook the cobwebs out of my ears--I suddenly heard the earthquake as MUSIC, holy shit, "I Fought the Law and the Law Won"--Bobby Fuller's old loud rock saw--it was--and it was coming through my north wall from the apartment building that was slammed up against my building so that our walls were theoretically the same.
I knew the guy who lived beyond my north wall in that building's second-floor apartment--it wasn't a loft building, just an old walk-up apartment building--a working stiff's building--with a sloppy Greek coffee shop on the first floor--still run by Greeks, Athenians as a matter of fact--I had the hots for the Greek daughter--I've always found Greek babes attractive--lustfully attractive--like Ari Onassis (and what a crooked old conniving bastard he was--it took F-ing Jackie O to finally wear his old randy gonads out--and I've heard Jackie O could "F a man's balls off" and that was her intention when she screwed, that's why she F'd so hard and mean. That's what a guy told me who I know for sure used to be her escort when she was a Viking editrix (yeah, sure--but wait, Jackie O was a "journalist" when JFK first got into her soiled pants)--my friend was a bisexual dude--a weird bunch of dudes--I've known a lot of them here in NYC, especially among actor types).
I had met the occupant of that apartment whose south wall was my north wall 2 years before through my friend who had been his growing-up friend in their old Brooklyn Jewish neighborhood and they had grown up street tough, the Kikies versus the WOPs and the Micks in street warfares, the Jewish boys always getting spewed at, tempted, coaxed, and sometimes tortured, though growing cynically tough as nails and like most New Yorkers soon not afraid of any damn thing and certainly not any women, drugs, or musicians--though, yes, still leery of WOPs and Micks.
The guy in this apartment was a classically trained percussionist who when I first met him was a kettle drummer with the Riverside Symphony Ork and one of the features of his cramped apartment were the two massive copper kettle drums that were his dining room table. He was also beginning to hang out with the punkers and noise rockers and the glam crowd of downtown Manhattan, especially the Lower East Side and a Bowery-sited club called CBGB-OMFUG's (I used to know what the letters stood for--"Country, Blue Grass, Blues" that's CBGB I know, but OMFUG--I forget) owned and run by a NYC weirdo named Hilly. The first gig I played at CBGB's, with my friend who was that friend of my neighbor's--in fact, my neighbor may have even been our drummer that night--we played behind a chicken wire screen--to protect us from beer bottles and god-knows-what being thrown at us and we came out and started the first tune and the guitar player's amp caught fire, a big blaze, man, but we kept on churning and we were a big success though we only played that one tune--amidst the smoke pouring out of the guitar player's old Fender Reverb amp--total nonsense music that that CBGB's (pronouced see-bee-gee-bees) bunch loved--they loved us so much, they beat up our body guard for that night, an old dockworker friend of ours whose favorite saying was "You think it's easy?" His response was, "Damn that was fun--did you see when I kicked that one guy in the nuts?" "That was a girl, Johnny, and you ruined her as a future mother you kicked her so hard." "Hell, she shouldn't'a looked so much like a man." And now I introduce Robin Rothman. She was our promoter and agent and got us the gig at CBGB's--I always made it possessive--why? I don't know. And Robin Rothman was Joey Ramone's girlfriend at the time and all of these people I now started associating with and playing music with were Ramones-heads and into the Velvet Underground but hated Lou Reed.
My neighbor's name, my neighbor through my north wall, was Matthew but everybody called him Matty. And Matty was a trip and a half. He was what we called a "jitterbug," a pill freak, but also a partaker of every drug lately invented by man, including Captain America, Blind Pig, hydroponically grown mushrooms (psychedelic schrooms), TCP (wasn't that what Angel Dust was called?), China White, and that horrible brown acid they served at Woodstock, where Matty certainly was in '69 and where I tried to be but ended up instead having an affair with my boss in Harrison, New York, where we turned off the highway to Asgar's Farm and took a room in a big Japanese-style motel and steakhouse and where we had our own Woodstock, licentiously cheating on our spouses with libelous glee and much mafficking fun--what a woman!
And women were so much a part of our lives in those days.
The Ear Inn as I remember it. It was originally called "The Green Door" and that's the old front door still on it in this photo. The red front building on the far side left of the Ear was Dino's in my day (and I know Dino still owns the building, now a 20-story luxury building), a wild, PuertoRican-food take-out dump--good musician food; cheap; their best, a Cuban sandwich made by Pedro; "Speak Puerto Rican with me," Pedro used to urge his lily white (blancos) customers. The building on the far corner (next to Dino's left) is what was then the Greek coffee shop; here it looks like the Brazilian restaurant that went in there in the 80s--so this photo could be circa 1985 or so; the first floor of that building was Matty's apartment. My loft was around that corner (that's Greenwich Street) next to Matty's building. The large red brick building in the far left background is on Renwick Street and is where I moved into my friends's living room when my "woman for life" kicked my ass out on a cold, cold winter's night in February of 1981, a year after I had lost my Greenwich Street loft to corporate lawyers raiding the area and offering double and triple rents to these loft-building owners--my landlord kicked my ass square-dab out in the street, though he did pay me back my 900-buck fixture fee, which in those days was enough for me to live on almost a year. That Ear Inn sign, "EAR," originally said "BAR." The neon on the "B" got broken in just the right way for the sign to read "EAR," thus the Ear Inn. On the Internet, on the NYC Architect site, they call this building "The James Brown" house. James Brown legendarily was supposed to be an aide-de-camp to George "I Love My Slaves" Washington (a pothead, too, by the bye) during the Revolutionary War. You see, George used blacks as his aide-de-camps and James Brown was supposed to be one of those black gentlemen and this was the house he was given title to in honor of his service during that war. The house was originally a part of the John Jacob Astor housing development where the rich fur-trapper built these Federal-style houses all along Spring Street and over on King and Van Dam streets, too; his development ran to Canal (there really is a canal under Canal Street) and from there on all the land south of Canal was owned and developed by Trinity Church on Wall Street. All those streets from Canal south are named for former Trinity bishops and pastors, Duane, Reade, deLessips (sic), Prescott, et al. The Ear Inn was a remarkable gathering place of some of the most eccentric people I've ever met back starting when it opened as the Ear Inn in 1977--for at least 3 years my gang dominated the place--and I mean dominated it, though there were two factions involved, the developing stars of the NYC performing arts scene (Laurie Anderson, Beth Anderson, Rhys Chatham, Charlie Morrow, R.I.P. Heyman, Perry Robinson)--and the rock, blues, and jazz scene (Carla Bley was always there with one of her young boy lovers (she admitted she needed 'em young) or Mike Bloomfield of Paul Butterfield fame spent some of his last days coming in the Ear Inn, ordering a pitcher of ice water, and then going back and playing the Ear Inn house piano, the piano that the Ear Inn proprietor and myself and another Ear Inn eccentric regular rented a huge flatbed truck and went up to High Falls, New York, and picked that piano up--it was a gift from one of the Ear Inn's best customers, a woman pilot named Willow whose High Falls home had an airstrip in its backyard. We got that damn piano all the way back to the city and as we were gang-grappling the damn thing off the back of that truck, the damn piano broke loose and flew out into the middle of Spring Street and the fall blew the wood case to smithereens leaving the insides of that piano totally naked. I personally nailed the case back together and then back around that piano with ten-penny nails and we rolled it into the joint and there it sat up front right in front of the bar for a while and then it was moved back in the far corner of the back dining room--the Ear Inn was a speakeasy during Prohibition--yes it was; originally it was the Thomas Cloke Brewery--back in the 1850s. But, I researched the Ear Inn one year of almost sobriety--bullshit--I was stoned everyday in those days--and I couldn't verify that James Brown was the first owner of the Ear; nor could I verify he was black or an aide-de-camp for Washington. I did find his name in the city property records but much later than the legend claimed and perhaps his house was a house where Dino's ended up and not the Ear Inn afterall, but legends are hard to deny so the legend continues on--it is a landmark building, though Donald Trump almost brought the old Ear to the ground when he started blasting to build his tacky glass house down there, now right smack up against the Ear, where that old tacky orange garage door is in the above photo--that was a spice warehouse and oh the wonderful spicy odors that used to waft through that neighborhood. It took the money folks to discover it after we eccentric artists had made it a chi-chi neighborhood. The Ear Inn bar and restaurant was taken over by three ex-bartenders in the 80s--and they turned the Ear into a snobby little place, though they tried to keep it Ear-ie. Now it's a total fop hangout; snobby fuckers that us old Ear Inn-ders hate with a passion and would have tossed out of the Ear on their swell asses (or are those their heads?). They now rule, however, and I live in a dump far on up Broadway from the old dear Ear; the oldest building on Broadway, I once again announce, by the bye.
To be continued
for The Daily Growler