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.
slip kid- the who
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