Monday, August 2, 2010

East 19th Street, Brooklyn: "It Goes Into Your Mind" (Songs 'n' The Hoods Part 3)

I clocked some very important time on this block. This wasn't just hanging out. This was everything about music, friendship, and life no one anywhere else could have told me. It was a dozen or so stoops along this Brooklyn block, each like a private booth roped off in an exclusive club. It's been close to 40 years and I still feel the people and their influence. It's been close to 40 years and I still miss this block.

In the winter, it was guys in brown leather bomber jackets and girls in sweaters and denim. In the summer, it was girls in t-shirts, shorts and Chinese slippers and guys in brown leather bomber jackets. There were no iPods in 1978, so everyone had one of these--

Robert's was about as big as Skylab, but then so was Robert, a very likeable giant with a soft voice and great sense of humor. (We were all funny.) Each one of these battery-operated, 8 pound monstrosities was proudly paraded around by its owner, with a specific cassette made for an afternoon cruise.

Pedro's usually played Black Sabbath. Anthony's, Rush. The other Anthony's played Zeppelin, as did John's and about 6 others. Vito's played anything associated with Ritchie Blackmore. Kiss blared from everyone's.

Zilly's music came from his car, usually Motorhead or Thin Lizzy, occasionally Robin Trower and Rory Gallagher. Not the most popular artists on the block, though Thin Lizzy and Motorhead are still to this day, two bands I listen to fervently. I thank Zilly for that, but offer no thanks for the hell that is Rory Gallagher. As recently as 6 months ago, I found myself asking Zill, "What the hell is it with you and Rory Gallagher?" 40 years later, he tried to tell me but still couldn't sell me.

And then there was Queen, the 19th Street obsession. All the girls loved Freddie. And so did most of the guys.

I was the troublemaker.

I'd make my tapes at the Greenwich Village apartment where I lived with my mother, then go to work at my cousin's house on the extended summer stays at my father's. We lived on East 21st, near Shore Parkway, but 2535 East 19th Street? My cousin's house? That was home stoop.

My mixes were a hard sell. I made sure "2112" by Rush would play loud enough to entice some of the other stoops to wander over. I continued to play it safe with some choice ELO and Cheap Trick tunes. Those went over pretty well. But once I had'em, it was hard to keep'em. I blame myself.

"What the hell is this shit," Skippy would ask. "It's Brian Eno. The Paw Paw Negro Blowtorch," I'd answer. "Here Comes The Warm Jets? Eno? See ya, Skippy."

Going from Rush to Eno is like having Japanese food for the first time and jumping from tempura to uni. There were easily 5 other, more accessible Eno tunes that I could have used to sway these skeptics, and at least 106 other groups that would have been more appealing for a summer's day. But I felt up to the challenge, so I went with Eno. Never "go" with Eno.

The debates could get loud and sometimes piss off the neighbors. Teenage boys with favorite guitarists can get a bit unruly. I argued the merits of Yes & Genesis over Rush & Kansas. Tried desperately to sell Mott The Hoople and 10cc, to no avail. At the time, it was Jimmy Page who made the top of everyone's favorite guitar player list, except for Vito's and possibly Pedro's, whose passion for Tony Iommi was frightening.

I managed to turn some of my friends on to Todd Rundgren, but it wasn't due to the pop stuff or the Laura Nyro-inspired ballads that were killing me. I preyed on their prog instincts and wound up making new Todd fans out of some improbables, by putting on Side One of Utopia's "Ra." When I realized I was onto something, I broke out "Black Maria," from "Something/Anything?" The guys needed to hear guitar solos.

I remember vividly, one sweltering August afternoon when WNEW-FM played the about to be released Zep album "In Through The Out Door" in its entirety. It was an album that was mostly co-written with John Paul Jones, instead of the usual Page-Plant formula, and was also heavier than usual on the keyboards.

Anthony went nuts. "No leads? No leads? NO LEADS?"He repeated that phrase relentlessly for at least 6 weeks--kinda like the scene where Paul Dooley has his nervous breakdown in the 1979 movie "Breaking Away," after his son offers a customer a refund at the car dealership. "REFUND? REFUND?"

It was a traumatic experience for us to have waited so long for a new Zep record only to find Jimmy Page's guitar, playing second banana to Jonesy's synthesizers. It took some time, but I eventually dug it. Anthony "No Leads," did not.

While all of this was unfolding over these late seventies' summers, my cousin and I would quietly retreat to his basement, just by ourselves, and get lost in The Beatles, The Hollies, The Zombies, The Monkees, CSN&Y, and so much more. It was liberating to listen to music without the burden of having to impress anyone. We just listened and sang along, trying to outdo each other with harmony. Ironic, really. We went so many years without speaking.

The evenings were magical. If we were feeling a bit bold, we'd each brown bag it, usually something horrible, like Tango, which was a pre-made screwdriver the color of Tang and only slightly more delicious than orthoboric acid. Or moronically, blackberry brandy, which made its way out as fast as it made its way in. Some of us smoked, both kinds of cigarettes. One of us made a 6 foot bong and we all took turns standing on a chair or some books to get a hit.

On one particular evening, a special guest from a few blocks away, stumbled up the block, looking like a George Romero extra. He was a talented musician, just like his brother, and it was always a kick when he came around with his guitar. This time, it scared some of us. He went on to explain how he had been snorting cocaine all day. This was a first for all of us. We had questions. "Where'd you get it?" "How much was it?" Someone asked, "So what happens after you sniff it," to which he replied, "It goes into your mind."

The radios continued to play.

I remember the thrill of hearing live simulcasts on Friday nights with Bruce Springsteen at the Capitol Theatre, Cheap Trick from the Palladium, and Boston from somewhere. We all loved Boston. It all sounded so good on the street. This was long before the internet, where every toot, snort and fart by every singer, songwriter and musician could be found with a little patience. So if you had a blank cassette on you, and an extra set of batteries, you could record Boston's live simulcast and be one of the cool cats who owned the never released "Television Politician," an unrecorded song that was a live staple among the hits.

We'd sit on cars, curbs, and of course on the steps leading up or down to the houses where these amazing people lived. There were about 15 of us in the core group, and another dozen, who'd make their way in and out, like major league utility players waiting for an opportunity to make a game-saving play. Unlike the angry cliques of Manhattan that I mentioned in the first part HERE, the Brooklyn folk, or at least this mostly peaceful group, always seemed ready to laugh. 40 years later, I still believe that this group from Sheepshead Bay truly liked each other.

I found a cassette labelled, "East 19th Street, Brooklyn."

This was typically what you would have heard if you spent a summer evening walking the strip and hopping stoops.

tightrope- elo
slip kid- the who
heartless- heart
hey baby- ted nugent
i wanna know why- aerosmith
day of the eagle- robin trower
don't kill the whale- yes
fool in the rain- led zeppelin
dancing in the moonlight- thin lizzy
now i'm here- queen
lady evil- black sabbath
dance the night away- van halen
since you've been gone- rainbow
the trees- rush
calling dr. love- kiss
a man i'll never be- boston
dream police- cheap trick
i wanna go to the sun- peter frampton


itsok2beright said...

You knew I would be the first.

Those days were indeed special, and yes we did like each other, and still do.

I still remember the day, 9/25/80, when you came running down 21st Street, as soon as you saw me walking home from school. You had to be the first to ask me if I heard about Bonham. Can't believe it's been over 30 years since those days on 19th Street. You still look the same!

That stroll down memory lane could have gone on for muck longer, but since it was only about the music, it does say a lot.

Trying to stay incognito, I'll just say your little story about me is not accurate.


Blank Frank said...

A wonderful story, thanks for taking the time to share it. About your choice of Eno music, it was really bold to "run" with it as you did, but you might have had better luck with "Baby's On Fire", probably one of the greatest lead solos ever put down on tape.

I remember how back in the day how these mix tapes would be a statement about what was important, and sometimes a challenge to others.

Sal Nunziato said...


Hmmm...well it was thirty years ago. Was I close? Either way, glad you liked it.

Sal Nunziato said...


If memory serves me, I think "St. Elmo's Fire"--the song, not the movie-- made a few of the girls smile. That's something.

Thanks for the note.

itsok2beright said...

Mentioning those cassettes you made, I think I still have one in my garage. I now have to go look for it. It was your typical eclectic mix, but I think you threw in 'Whole Lotta Rosie' to entice me to listen to the whole tape. I did actually listen to that tape fairly regularly.

steve simels said...

Have I ever mentioned that you're a really terrific writer?

Seriously -- I could practically feel the heat rising off the asphalt. A beautiful job, Sal.

Sal Nunziato said...

Wow. Thanks Steve. That means a lot. Sincerely.

cmealha said...

Wonderful! Keep the stories coming. Nice mix as well. Which I could be haning out on a stoop listening to music these days. Thanks for the memories

Eric said...

great, great about King Biscuit Flower Hour

steves said...

I second Simels' sentiment. You can tell this is from the heart.

Sal Nunziato said...

Every Sunday night Eric! I sat poised, fingers on the pause button, waiting for the announcement, "Tonight on the King Biscuit Flower Hour..."

Noam Sane said...

Ahh, you were lucky to grow in the city. Out in the boonies, it was me and the dog, trying to get my transistor radio to pick up WJR so I could hear the Tigers game. Not so easy from upstate NY, though I succeeded more often than not, at least for a few innings. Ernie Harwell telling me that Willie Horton had just struck out. Again.

Occasionally my brother would be home instead of at his girlfriends, and I'd hear "Live at the Fillmore East" or "Where We All Belong" wafting from his room. Not for me...I was still a top-40 guy, grooving to "Green Eyed Lady".

Later, though, it was WQBK-Albany and a 3-ft bong hidden under a traffic cone in my red-shag-carpeted room, late at night after my folks slept.
The overnight guy talked in a low, portentous grunt with the sound of wolves howling in the background, and he'd take phone calls between album cuts, like Lester the Nightfly, to discuss the wonder of The Who By Numbers on the night of its release.

Same time, different place, but all the same music. I still remember walking out of the record store with the live Zeppelin double-album - my heart racing, I couldn't get home and put it on fast enough. That album is like a broadcast from Mars.

For the record, (no pun intended but I'll take it), I still think that first Boston album is terrific, as was your latest recollection. Thanks Sal.

Gene Oberto said...


As always, you manage to put us all on the stoop with you.

And if I was on that stoop, I would be with Zilly saying, "What the hell is with YOU and Rory Gallagher!?!" I have friends from Ireland when Rory Gallagher is mentioned, they go into rapture, saying that there would be no Thin Lizzy and U2 without Rory.

From Wikipedia: "During the heightened periods of political unrest in Ireland, as other artists were warned not to tour, Gallagher was resolute about touring Ireland at the least, once a year, during his career, winning him the dedication of thousands of fans, and in the process, becoming a role model for other aspiring young Irish musicians." This is why he is so beloved by every area of Ireland, to this day.

For me the epiphany came with "Live Europe" esp. "Could Have had Religion". Sal, I think you need to be cleansed in the "Laundermat".

anythingshouldhappen said...

Superb article Sal, beautifully written.

We as you know are from two different countries but similar ages.

The vibe over here was exactly the same and the whole neighbourhood of friends did the same things and as you say in your comments waited by the radio to tape what was on the In Concert or Friday Rock Show.

Sometimes I think age and nostalgia gets in the way because I don't see the kids of today having those same times, perhaps we've become too protective as parents.

The Bonham comment here can be related to the Lennon effect over in the UK.

The common thing that bound us all was music, we all didn't like the same thing, but we all loved music and musicians were gods then.

Perhaps it's the way music and particularly the album has become so throwaway that means there isn't a common link for the youth of today, games machines etc fight for their time.

It's an era I will always remember fondly, character building.

The radio was always on, you had to read the weekly press to find out what was going on and you discovered exciting stuff.

Brilliant thought provoking article. Outstanding.

Sal Nunziato said...

"I still remember walking out of the record store with the live Zeppelin double-album - my heart racing.."

Noam, that nails it really. And thanks for sharing your part of woods.

Same to you ASH.

I'm thrilled these bits of my life are striking the right chords.




"they go into rapture, saying that there would be no Thin Lizzy and U2 without Rory."

This may be true. And because of this, I devote an hour of my life every year, the way people in Puxatawney wait for Phil the gopher in February, to "Irish Tour '74," and you know what...there is always 3 more weeks of winter.

saleshido said...

Wow!! Sal you really brought me back for a minute...Well done...Where can I find Part 1 and 2? What about the bands? And how come I don't even get a mention even though I went out with 3 girls from that block and John Bonham died on my birthday.

Sal Nunziato said...


I have been posting everyday for 2 years. I put the links on Facebook everyday. Glad to see you keep up with my work. ;)

You are a whole chapter, buddy.

Read my blog. Part 1 & 2 are there.

More to come.

By the way, when I get over the fact that you never check out my writing, I'm gonna laugh really hard at--

"And how come I don't even get a mention even though I went out with 3 girls from that block and John Bonham died on my birthday."


saleshido said...

Oh yeah I almost forgot...That thing you said about Rory Gallagher: I DON"T GET IT EITHER. In fact he recently made another feeble attempt to try to convince me how great Rory was. I changed the subject to Phil Lynott.

Sal Nunziato said...

Rory is apparently "sacred ground."

itsok2beright said...

Hey Sal's,

Because of this post, I listened to all of 'Calling Card' by Rory. Nearly every song reminded me of Phil Lynott. I have to agree with the comment, without Rory, there would be no Thin LIzzy.

Tell Zilla, I get it.

Can't wait for the chapter about all of the love stories. Though, this has nothing to do with the music, it would be hysterical to be reminded of every little nuance.

Anonymous said...

You can NEVER go wrong with "Here Come The Warm Jets" or "Taking Tiger Mountain" (Yeah, Fripp's work on 'Baby's On Fire' is one of the great overlooked solos).

I could never understand Mott The Hoople being a hard sell, (I certainly tried in Colorado Springs in the mid-seventies) but they were always something of an acquired taste here in the States.

Sal Nunziato said...

For the record, itsok2be--

Rory's first album and Lizzy's first album came out the very same year, 1971.

Now Rory's first band, Taste, put out their frist in 1969, but they sound more like Cream.

Also, while the vocal inflections are similar, Phil Lynott's storytelling and unique rhyming and phrasing makes him one of a kind in my book, while Rory, a workingman's blues guitarist, simply grunts through the blues.

Listening to "Calling Card," now.


Sal Nunziato said...

Wait. Track 3 is pretty good.

Christine said...

Sal, this really is a wonderful story about friendship and music, especially since that's what it was all about in those days. I enjoyed the comments, as well.

To be 16 at the time "Christine Sixteen" came out--what could POSSIBLY be more exciting than THAT!

For the record, the guys on East 19th Street were by far the funniest group of people I ever had the pleasure of meeting. I have stories of my own that I couldn't possibly tell as well as you, Sal, so it's a thrill to have somebody as gifted as you tell some of them for us.

The red fence--I still need that as a marker when I want to find that house. Don't ever paint it, George!

Sal Nunziato said...

Thanks Chris,

Good stuff, and there is more.

Thought you'd like the "red fence."

Anonymous said...

I like the red fence as well, probably because its in front of my house....i spent great nights on that block, with a bunch of intelligent, talented funny guys (and I do mean funny, I agree with you Chris!). I also think only very few girls who hung out there (mainly Chris and I!) were so "in touch" with music and it was a very special, magical time that I'm grateful to you Sal for the memories that it conjured up. I'm also honored to still be both your and Chris' friend. You are a wonderful writer and I hope this segment goes on for months to come!

Sal Nunziato said...

Thanks Fran. I really appreciate your comments and very happy this walk down memory lane is hitting the right nerves.

Very happy to still be in touch, as well.

itsok2beright said...

Ok, maybe I don't get it. Just listened to five straight albums of Rory, and it wasn't easy (Rory Gallagher, Blueprint, Calling Card, Tattoo and Blue Day for the Blues). There are some gems on those albums, that I wouldn't quite say are grunts. I did hear some Clapton in there, along with Thin Lizzy and maybe some Derringer and Beck.

Though, I don't think I will be listening to those albums (mp3's) in the near future.

P.S. Sorry to hijack the thread.

misospecial said...

just great, i love this. so this is how you whiled away your misspent youth...

Anonymous said...

WOW...Just read this one!.. How did I miss this blog!! Brings a tug to my heart, especially pic of Marcos house..I lived on that top floor for over a year later on in life. Lots of laughs in a simpler day and age. As far as Rory Gallagher goes, just a raw working class blues/rocker, you either Love him or Hate in betweens. Great read Pal
Zilly (Phil C)