Monday, August 30, 2010

There's Something Wrong Here, There Can Be No Denying (Songs 'n' The Hoods Part 6)

My memory has a tendency to bully me around. I have many good memories of places, people and things, it's just that the crappy ones come through in HD detail, often highlighting the one tense moment that made an otherwise pleasant experience, a bane of my existence or fodder for amateur analysts. I've shared those memories with the friends and family who had supporting roles, and most of the time they have no recollection whatsoever, like the time our band Black Dog was rehearsing in Mike's basement.

We had decided to cover Roxy Music's "Out Of The Blue" from their fourth album "Country Life." Both Mike and Al were trying to piece together the lyrics from memory, specifically the chorus where Bryan Ferry explains to the listener what comes out of where.

"Out Of The Blue, love came rushing in. Out of the..."

Mike asked, "Sky, is it? What came out of the sky?" Al replied, "Sun. Out of the sky came the sun. Out of left field came..." I replied, "A lucky day." They both replied, "SHUT UP!"

If they're reading, I'm sure they'll deny this. They already had once before when I told the story over pasta and wine the last time we got together about 10 years ago. Mike seemed embarrassed by the memory, but neither he nor Al owned up to it. That moment in Mike's basement, trifling as it seems, wasn't an isolated incident. They were, and still are 4 years older, and things like this happened often in the late seventies when we were teenagers. When your 15 years old and 19 years old, the 4 years in between might as well be 24 years.

I wasn't an angel. One of my best friends was a Denver Broncos fan and at the time, I was a Dallas Cowboys fan. The year they met in the Superbowl, a modest little candy store/stationery store on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village started carrying little tile plaques that stood like picture frames, each sporting a full color replica of a single football helmet of every N.F.L. team. The Monday morning after the Broncos lost to the Cowboys in Super Bowl XII, I stopped by the candy store, purchased the Denver plaque for $2.00, and the minute my friend showed up for school, I spiked it into the concrete of Leroy Street, right at his feet, shattering multi-colored shards all over his Buster Browns. Sammy was a big kid. His biceps were bigger than his thighs. He could have easily crushed me with one blow. (My biceps were a little bigger than my toothbrush.) But, he just shook his head. He wasn't even angry. We walked home from school that day, went back to his place and listened to some Elton John. I'd like to have that day back.

And then there was Lesley. She lived on East 19th Street in Sheepshead Bay, and as I boast about my memory for detail, I can't recall if she lived at the very last house on 19th, or the very first apartment building across the alley. This is significant because, though the distance between the last house before the alley and the first after the alley was no more than 25 feet, if you lived on the other side, you somehow didn't belong. Lesley was riding the cusp regardless, simply because she did things that most on 19th Street couldn't ever imagine, like...listen to The Clash and The Buzzcocks, hang out at the Mudd Club, or go into Manhattan alone to see a movie.

One afternoon, she stopped by Al's basement where we had been listening to "Cat Scratch Fever" and savoring a Schmidt's. She unveiled a new record she had just bought at Zig Zag on Avenue U and East 23rd Street, a record store that doubled as my third, fourth and last class of sophomore year. It was by a band called The Pretenders. That was the first time I had ever heard "Stop Your Sobbing" and "Kid." Such amazing music, and yet I'm sure our reaction was pointlessly offputting. That was our specialty.

I had already been listening to The Clash and The Buzzcocks, not to mention Elvis Costello and XTC, thanks to Michael and Manny and Joe, three of the best record store guys in the Village, so my interest in what Lesley was carrying in her brown album bags was not unfounded. These were bands that were a laugh riot to the diehard Sabbath & Rush fans of Brooklyn, so any attempt she and I had made at casual conversation would quickly morph into panic once the bomber jackets came into focus.

She'd show me her new punk singles and tell me about some band she was going to see at CBGBs, like a ticket scalper or drug dealer, trying to complete the transaction before the heat took notice. Then, as the front doors opened and the starring cast emerged onto the stoops of East 19th Street, Lesley and I would scatter with that phony non-chalance, pretending as if one had just asked the other for the time. "Ok then stranger. Have a good day now. That's right, it's 4:30."

Another afternoon, Lesley asked if I wanted to go into the city to see "The Kids Are Alright," The Who movie which had just opened at the long gone Plaza Theatre, near the Plaza Hotel. Boy, did I. I said yes, and she was thrilled. We put our tokens into the turnstiles at the Sheepshead Bay Road station, and headed into Manhattan. Lesley seemed unfazed by the activity, while I felt like Papillon, catching that perfect wave off of the rock. We had a blast in a half-empty theatre, and talked rock and roll for the entire D-train ride back to Sheepshead Bay. Once we hit the block and noticed the peering eyeballs from the various stoops and windows, she started walking a bit faster, and I a bit slower, and that was that.

A few weeks later, Lesley invited me somewhere else. This time, it was to see a concert at the old Academy Of Music on East 14th Street, which by then had turned into the Palladium. It was a triple bill of XTC, The Buzzocks, & The Fall. (On certain days, I remember it being The Buzzcocks, X-Ray Spex & The Fall. Other days, it's The Buzzocks, Gang Of Four & The Fall.) I said yes immediately, but as the evening got closer, I started to panic.

It was a combination of fear---what would I be missing if I didn't hang on the block for one Friday night--- and fear---what are all my friends going to say if I cross the tracks and hang with Lesley...again? I didn't go, which could explain why I can't recall the exact lineup. Even worse, I broke the news to her as she walked up to my cousin's house to pick me up. No warning, no real excuse, and not a bit of sensitivity for this person's feelings. I just said, "I'm not going." I remember her looking at me, but not for very long. She just started walking away. I don't ever recall her talking to me again. (There's that damn memory again.) I'd like to have that night back.

That night, while The Buzzcocks surely kicked some ass at the Palladium, I sat on a stoop and most likely listened to "Cat Scratch Fever," while someone most likely teased me about something.








steve simels said...

Sal --

Another beautiful piece, and god, do I envy you being a kid when all that stuff was happening. I was already old and jaded, although I have a similar story about hearing the first Pretenders single.

Sal Nunziato said...

Thanks Steve, and feel free to share the Pretenders story, either here or over at

Dusty Wright said...

Great piece, Sal.

As you know, XTC only toured the US once. I saw them open for The Police at the Cleveland Agora. I remember that they played art movie clips behind them on a portable screen. And I remember leaving about half way thru Der Stingel and his trio. I hailed XTC, and thought they blew away the peroxided blonds that followed them.


Sal Nunziato said...

Thanks Dusty. I know XTC weren't around often, but I think it may have been both 79 and 80. I wish I knew the exact line up that night.

Lisa Ann Volpe said...

Great piece again. You captured the politics perfectly! Even though Fran was my best friend on 19th Street, I lived on Sheepshead Bay Road. Geography and Music were the great divides. I always felt like a "visitor" on 19th Street and I only lived a few blocks away. I loved the Who...but it was the late '70s, NY was gritty and I heading into a nihilistic phase. I had discovered the Sex Pistols, who Fran though "dirty" and suddenly the Who seemed old to me. I too straddled the great divide of those I loved and grew up with and the excitement of hearing people my age singing how I felt and once again changing the face of music. I'll never forget not having money to afford the albums I wanted desperately to hear and sitting in Leslie's bedroom hearing Echo & the Bunnymen for the first time. Unfortunately, Leslie and I ended in a similar way as Sal and she did, but thanks Leslie for letting me hear the music I read about but couldn't afford. I went on to have a fun friendship with Echo and have some of the best times of my life at CBGB's.

steve simels said...

Sal -- I would love to share that story about hearing the first Pretenders single, but it involves a still living woman with access to lawyers.

Christine said...

Another wonderful story, written with such feeling and intelligence and humor. Here's hoping Leslie has forgiven you. We all have a story of regret similar to yours--a momentary lapse of reason. We wish we could go back and change just that one decision we made, but we can't.

Lisa--As you know, my punk rock days didn't last very long, but I do remember spending Christmas night at CBGB's--a very angry, hurt teenager I was in December of 1977! That music did help me through some very tough times. So did you guys and thanks for that. :-)

mesposit said...

Dear Sal,
I believe there are some factual inaccuracies in the "Out of the Blue" story...Al and I did not say "Shut up". We said "Surfs up!" If you remember correctly, the waves that day in Manhattan Beach were fantastically high and we were passing the time in the my basement waiting to go surfing. I know Al also remembers it differently. In my conversations with him regarding this incident-- and I have researched this extensively for my upcoming memoir "Eat, Pray, Eat: The true story about angiosarcoma"--he remembers us shouting "Soups on!". My mother had just finished heating up some leftover tortellini for us to enjoy. Anyways, I hope this has cleared this up for you-- With much affection, Mike.

Tokyo Joe said...

Another nice story of old days through the eyes of an adult-child.
I only knew just one girl who could share rock music with me - Yoko(not that one) who gave me "Burnt Weeny Sandwich", I hope she is still the same girl she used to be.
The Pretenders' first album - yeah, that's the first record got me into new wave/punk music.

Anonymous said...

Another great piece but.....your interpretation of Leslie is a bit unfair...Having grown up on the same block as her(the infamous E.19th St.), I recall Leslie as a maverick whose internal drumbeat was vastly different than most of the rest of us...uber intelligent, quite interesting and a welcome change from the usual fare...sure she might have had her own clique but I'm guessing it was far more interesting than mine I recall, the period of time this installment covers was Leslie's "hot punk" period..I dare say the only peering eyes(mine anyway) you encountered from the "other side of the tracks" were jealous ones...I had the good fortune of sharing the experience of seeing The Who at MSG with hilarious evening for reasons I think you know point is, portraying her in semi-weirdo insinuation is untrue and unfair...the gist of this installment, I understand, is about the mistakes YOU made, and I give you much credit for that...I just felt the need to try to illuminate the Leslie I knew...really smart, really funny, really different, really sweet...I hope whatever she's up to these days, she is truly happy...amen

Sal Nunziato said...

Thanks for the comments, Anon. But I don't think I portrayed her as semi-weird at all. The actions of the others, myself included, are questionable.

Saying "odd girl out" is a fact not an insult.

I think you are saying exactly what I'm saying, so not sure what it is you disagree with.

Still, I am happy you enjoyed the memory.

francesca said...

Great piece (as per usual, Sal)!! Leslie definitely was depicted and known as strange/different than most others, mainly influenced and put "on her way" by us....but Lisa, Chris and I were reacted to in the same way by a lot of 19th St. people and most of our high's just that we dared to delve and explore new and exciting things/bands/clothes, etc. and we were just way ahead of our time! (FYI, I believe she first lived in the apt. bldg. next to the alley way and then moved to the last house, the 2nd to last house was Kathleen Dalton and family!)



I love this collection of your Songs 'n the Hood.

I'm reading a fun book you might enjoy. "Cigar Box Banjo: Notes on Music and Life" by Paul Quarrington. Paul was a well regarded Canadian author -- 10 novels and 5 non-fiction books, screenplays, ... -- who always dabbled in what might be called "semi-pro music."

I say "was" because Paul was diagnosed with terminal cancer and wrote this book about dying, living, music and why it has such power over us.

For a 50 something living in Toronto the book is fabulous and so evocative of the local music scene but I don't think Cigar Box Banjo is too parochial. Anyone who can evoke the power of Songs 'n the Hood might dig this book even if he doesn't know Don Mills from Dominic Triano.

I see from Mister Amazon that the US edition isn't published 'til October. Put it on your list and check it out this fall if you get the chance.

Can't wait for part 7!


Marsupial said...

That was another really great, bittersweet story. As soon as I realized there was a new "chapter" up, I closed my other browser windows and turned up the font size so my aging eyes could read it properly. (Back in the day i would turn up the volume, now I turn up the font size (sigh).)

As someone who lived on the opposite coast, in a completely different life, I have to tell you that these stories are great beyond the boundaries of Sheepshead Bay Road and 19th Street. Thanks for sharing them!