Tag Archives: East Village

Semi-Genius

One of the favorite periods of my life was when I was in my late twenties.  I had just moved into Manhattan from Long Island, just returned to work at OMNI Magazine – more accurately, the fledgling OMNI Book Division – after my failed attempt at being a public school teacher, and I felt like my REAL life was just beginning.  So I needed to be in the place where everything was happening, to live on the edge of coolness, in this next phase of self-discovery.

My first year in NYC was spent in a two-bedroom sublet apartment on East 21st Street, between 2nd and 3rd Avenues, next door to the NYPD 13th Precinct with its constant beeping of backing-up police vehicles.  I even had a view of the Empire State Building if you stood at just the right angle in front of my living room window.  I had also inherited a cat, Livvie, who was my first “pet project”.  Livvie lived on a table and two shelves in the kitchen and was petrified of most people.  She had been left behind by her unfeeling owner (a nonfiction writer of some repute who was a co-worker at OMNI) and had allegedly watched her sister jump (or be pushed?) to her death out the kitchen window, not to mention that my two cats also mercilessly tormented her from the moment we had moved in.  (Another story for another day.)  After that first year was up, I had to get a place of my own, so I found a basement studio on East 1st Street, between 1st and 2nd Avenues.  I had started spending quite a bit of time in the East Village during my year on 21st Street, primarily with a diminutive Englishman named Clive, or perhaps Lane, or some other entirely different name – he was a bit of an enigma and fodder for a blog post all his own, but today is not the day for a blog post about Clive.  Today is the day for a blog post about another fellow I met during my years in the East Village who was the lead singer, songwriter and all-around creative force behind seminal Oi! band (more on that in a moment) The Press named André Schlesinger.

I always likened André’s physique to a turtle, hunchbacked with his neck slightly retracted, usually scowling, pale and freckled and gingery, although he always kept his hair close-cropped.  He was, in fact, the local figurehead of the East Village chapter of S.H.A.R.P. – Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice.  Back in the ’80s, there was a cohort of kids who shared the look of the right-wing, Nazi-influenced British and American skinheads, with their Doc Martens and Fred Perry shirts and suspenders, but didn’t brook with the hard right politics – ergo, S.H.A.R.P.  In fact, these anti-skinhead skinheads felt strongly that it was THEIR look and music that had been appropriated by the racist skinheads.  The genre of music they favored was commonly called “Oi!”, after the mostly British (but American commandeered) all-purpose exclamation, “Oi!” as derived from footie fan chants in the U.K.  As André himself described it, “Oi! shares many similarities with folk music, besides its often simple musical structure; quaint in some respects and crude in others, not to mention brutally honest, it usually tells a story based in truth.”  [quoted in Wikipedia entry for “Oi!” from Ian Glasper, Burning Britain (London: Cherry Red, (2004)), p. 282.] [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oi!]

André always used to say he wore his musical influences on his sleeve, and those were easy to identify:  the Clash, Stiff Little Fingers, Blitz, Cock Sparrer, the Four Skins, Cockney Rejects, etc.  And the Press’ songs, while certainly catchy, were a tad derivative.  His lyrics, though, were sharper than most, and he always carried around a beat-up composition notebook full of sketches and bits of brutal, beautiful poetry.  One of my favorite lines comes from a song called “Just Another Warning” that actually appeared on a compilation album featuring NYC punk and ska bands:  “You never have an answer/But you’ve always got something to say.” Perfect, right?  We all know someone like that.  His words were angry and sardonic and yet smart and funny at the same time.  I called him a semi-genius, a moniker he pooh-poohed but secretly liked.  I always imagined that he would be famous.  In fact, Boston punks the Dropkick Murphys did cover one of his more iconic songs, “21 Guitar Salute”.

André was such a presence in my East Village years.  So many heated conversations about music and politics, spiritualism and art!  André had many opinions, but as a conversationalist he was either silent and seething, hunched antisocially over a domestic beer in a corner of the bar in one of his regular haunts, Downtown Beirut or the Horseshoe Bar (aka Vazacs) at the corner of East 7th Street and Avenue  B, or impossibly garrulous.  I relished those nights when he was on one of his rants; I was transfixed and amused.  And there were so many Press shows, where I would get as close to the front of the stage as I could, often narrowly avoiding getting smacked in the head when he swung his microphone like a lasso, one of his few on-stage mannerisms together with his patter, alternating gracious thanks with “screw you” growls toward “you know who you are”s in the audience.

Someday I hope to write about those years in the Village in the late ‘80s, around the time of the Tompkins Square riots, when the area was gentrifying at a dizzying pace and the cachet of the neighborhood as the birthplace of punk, with CBGB at its epicenter, had long faded, leaving nothing there but wannabes (even though it was rumored that Joey Ramone maintained an apartment in the Christodora House on Avenue B, and he often popped up at local clubs, but I never managed to see him).  André was kind of a victim of that shift:  He was talented, without a doubt, with a significant following (not just the S.H.A.R.P. boys), but the record companies weren’t scouring the bars and clubs of the East Village for the “next big thing” anymore.  By that time, at the end of the 1980s, the “next big thing” interest had already shifted to the West Coast, from Green Day and the Offspring in Southern California to Nirvana and Pearl Jam in the Pacific Northwest (and their respective ilk).  Fortunately, my journals from that time are pretty intact (although I did lose a few to the flood), so my memories may yet see the light of day, especially now that I’ve begun loosening up my writing muscles via this blog.

So, sadly, The Press never became the “it” band to make it out of the East Village, much like the Strokes did about a decade later, when NYC was hip again and the East Village had morphed into the Lower East Side (and the TRULY hip were leaving for Williamsburg and Greenpoint).  André descended into darkness – literally.  He became a reverend in the Church of Satan, but much like his ironic appropriation of skinhead style in an anti-racist role, so was his Satanism never meant to harm but only to view life from a different, more authentic perspective than the tenets offered by organized (and oppressive) Christianity.  (Well, that’s not ENTIRELY true – much of his motivation was to cause harm to those who had done him wrong, I’m not gonna lie.)  But in general, his was a kinder, gentler Satan worship, more along the lines of Aleister Crowley, Satanist to the Stars back in his day.

A few weeks ago my ex (for whom André had a deep fondness, like a little brother) said that he had seen something online that made him think that André had died.  Ian and I both followed the FaceBook page of his current band, Maninblack, and I had even downloaded a couple of his recent singles – “Two Thousand Fifteen” (“There is no scene in 20-15”) and a paean to his home called “The NYC (There Will Always Be”), which featured a recording of actual NYC subway announcements – but there hadn’t been much new activity, so it kind of made sense.  It took me a while, but I finally did some Googling and, sure enough, André had passed away in February of 2016.  As described in an “in memoriam” piece by one of his friends, Peter H. Gilmore, self-described High Priest of the Church of Satan,  “The quintessential curmudgeon, the ultra-meanie of alt.satanism, the force behind The Press and MANINBLACK, Reverend André Peter Schlesinger of the Church of Satan was a man who lived life on his own terms, without compromise—ever.” [http://www.churchofsatan.com/in-memorium-reverend-andre-peter-schlesinger.php]  I also found a well-done article about André that even featured a video of a performance at Downtown Beirut II from around 1988-89 for which, in all likelihood, I was working behind the bar.  [Freddy Alva, “21-Guitar Salute:  André Schlesinger from The Press”, No Echo website, 2/17/16, http://www.noecho.net/features/21-guitar-salute-andre-schlesinger-from-the-press.%5D

I hadn’t seen the man in over a decade – I think the last time was way back in maybe 2000, before my friend Sue met her husband and got married.  The reason I remember the timing that way is because we had him do a Tarot reading for her at the West Village occult bookshop called the Magickal Childe where he was working at the time.  He was in a very rotund phase – he put me in mind of Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now – but his steely blue eyes were still wounded, his scowl still intense.  In retrospect, his reading was surprisingly accurate:  He said she was going to meet and marry a man with two kids, which she eventually did, and, as I recall, he also said it would not end well, which remains to be seen.

But when I thought of him, when I saw someone who reminded me of him or one of his songs came on my iPod, I always liked to think he was out there somewhere, still creating his clever, angry music and writing his tortured poetry, lusting after a whole new generation of Christina Applegate-lookalikes.  André always loved Christina Applegate, circa “Married With Children” era.  I was just wondering the other day whatever happened to her – I think she struggled with cancer a couple of years ago – and then this week, as I was contemplating writing this post, she popped up on “Jimmy Kimmel”, sort of out of the blue.  I took it as yet another sign that it was time to honor my friend.  I hope you can rest in peace wherever you are, André, because you carried so much turmoil on this astral plane, although you managed to do it with just a touch of genius. 

Real Live Music

I have mixed feelings about live music versus studio albums.  Some live shows I’ve seen were memorable, but I could probably count those on one hand.  There was my favorite show EVER, which was at the Bitter End in NYC in 1995 to see Jeffrey Gaines with my friend Sue (who, not coincidentally, factors into many of my top music experiences, including a recent Squeeze acoustic show, where we kept getting whiffs of marijuana but couldn’t figure out where it was coming from because there didn’t seem to be any actual telltale SMOKE, and Nick Cave outdoors on a gorgeous summer evening in Prospect Park).  At the Bitter End, we had great seats, up near the stage.  I was about 8 months pregnant and, during his finale, a cover of Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes”, I openly wept, whether from the perfection of his voice and guitar, or the crowd gently singing the backing vocals, or raging hormones, but probably a combination of all of the above.

The last Bowie show I saw, a few summers ago at Nikon Theater at Jones Beach, was also an unforgettable one.  This amphitheater is in a completely unique location, on the shore of Zach’s Bay (“Field 5”, for all you Long Islanders), with the broad expanse of Jones Beach and the Atlantic Ocean in the background, going on seemingly forever.  There used to be an actual MOAT separating the stage and the audience, although in recent photos I’ve seen, it now appears to be covered over.  I remember when I was very young my family went to see a production of “The Sound of Music” there, and they would actually bring in actors and props on little barges via the moat.  On this particular summer’s day, it started out sunny and hot but just before Bowie took the stage, the gray clouds started moving in on the wide ocean horizon like churning waves, flecked by lightning strikes in the distance.  Then, inevitably, came the rain.  Bowie, ever the showman, was willing to continue, but for safety reasons the show was shut down two-thirds of the way through.

I’m pretty sure I remember seeing the Talking Heads and Graham Parker and Blondie (among others) at this airplane-hangar sized venue in Hartford when I was at Trinity College from 1977 through 1981, and Sue and I also saw “young” Squeeze at the Malibu nightclub here in Long Beach back in the early ‘80s.  We were at the Squeeze show so early that we actually chatted with Glenn Tillbrook, his mop of strawberry blonde hair hanging out the window of a car being driven around the empty parking lot hours before the doors opened for the show.  But aside from the historical significance of seeing early incarnations of now-classic artists (including my awe at seeing Tina Weymouth, pioneering chick bass player, kicking major rhythm section ass, especially on “Psycho Killer”), I don’t actually remember the concerts themselves.

We witnessed a ton of musical performances in the East Village circa 1990, because I was a bartender in a club, Downtown Beirut II on East Houston Street, that featured live music and was good friends with the guy who booked the gigs, Gene Perone.  Gene was the drummer in a band called Bad Tuna Experience that also featured our favorite green-haired bartender Caroline on lead vocals.  [An aside:  Gene was/is also a “personality” and comedian known as Buddy Flip, who I understand still tours and performs [http://www.buddyflip.com].  I did not know about his alter-ego when I, with my 3-year old daughter and future ex-husband, moved back to my mother’s house in Seaford, NY, from North Carolina in 1998.  One night I was watching TV and on came a commercial for a fun place to take the family out in Suffolk County, on Long Island, called White Post Farms.  It was an actual working farm, where you could pet and feed baby animals and go on hay rides, especially around Halloween.  The spokeperson on the commercial had a certain catchy patter, like, “Hey, kids, it’s your old pal Buddy Flip!”, and was wearing a cowboy hat and overalls, talking about all the fun you could have at White Post Farms.  I sensed something familiar about his voice, so I took a good look at the guy and shouted aloud, “THAT’S GENE!”  So of course I grabbed the closest 3-year-old and went to White Post Farms and there he was, standing on a stage getting ready to lead kids on a pumpkin hunt or some such activity.  We had a friendly little reunion, quickly realizing that we were already nearly ten years removed from our East Village heyday.  I’m glad to see he’s still doing his comedy thing.  I always found him to be a very entertaining and talented guy.]

CBGBs was experiencing the beginning of the end in those years, but as it was right around the corner from my basement apartment on East 1st Street, we went often and saw a wide range of musical acts, including my ex’s ragtag band, the Diabolix (not a particularly gifted bunch but I still think it was a pretty damn good band name) and my personal favorite band of the day, the Press, featuring Andre Schlesinger as the semi-dictatorial, semi-genius singer-songwriter.  Like Gene/Buddy, Andre is still following his muse as headman of ManinBlack [http://maninblack.org], producing typically dark and sardonic but also really clever and witty music.  I must say, though, one of my great disappointments is that we missed the prime creative years in the East Village.  During the time we lived there, the East Village and the Lower East Side were undergoing a gentrifying transition, and unfortunately there were no more Patti Smiths or David Johansens or even Ramones being discovered; out of all the bands we used to see during that time, no one ever made it big.  The music “scene” by then was shifting to the Pacific Northwest, where Nirvana and Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains and their grungy ilk would dominate the musical airwaves for the next decade.  We were, unfortunately, all gone by the time bands like the Strokes and Interpol and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs made their appearances in the same LES vicinity later in the 1990s.

The East Village years could (and probably will) comprise an entire separate blog post, but my musical experiences there played a key role in my love/hate relationship with live music.  I was often able to get extremely up close and personal with the performers in those days in those hole-in-the-wall clubs, so now I’m ruined for huge crowds in large venues.  I just don’t see the appeal.  Of course tickets are obscenely expensive so my seats are usually not very good, and I’m short so there are always too many heads blocking my view.  The sound systems are also hit-or-miss:  They can be pristine (like at the Nick Cave show in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park that I heard but did not see thanks to the aforementioned heads) but more often than not they’re too loud and fuzzy and muddy.  (One time, back when I was in college, I went to a Ramones show and actually squeezed myself INTO the speaker, absorbing the sound – and Johnny Ramones’ sweat – like a sponge, after which I couldn’t hear for three days.)

Live concerts can certainly create a unique aural and visual atmosphere but, with very few exceptions, I rarely (if ever) listen to live albums.  I prefer a studio version of a song every time.  Although I can appreciate that there are emotional moments and vocal and instrumental nuances that create one-of-a-kind experiences at live shows, by definition, once that moment has been captured on video or audio, doesn’t it no longer qualify as one-of-a-kind?

But I’m such a music lover that there is nothing that gives me a thrill like being up close to musicians, hearing them sing without the use of the microphone and watching every pluck of the strings and bang on the drums (I confess, I’ve always had a thing for drummers).  So that is why I really enjoyed a performance last weekend of Four Way Street, a new CSNY cover band featuring a high school classmate of mine, Chris Cangeleri.  Chris also plays in a Bruce Springsteen cover band called Badlands, but I prefer CSNY to Springsteen so I saw Four Way Street first.  I may go to see Badlands next weekend, if I can manage to convince someone to come with me this time.  On this particular evening, I went to the Four-Way Street show alone, which didn’t bother me when the band was playing and I was actually able to stake out a prime viewing spot for myself.  But I felt a little awkward just standing around on my own when the band took a break after their first set, so I left early and missed their second set, during which I am sure they played my favorite song of theirs, “Wasted on the Way”.  But as evidenced in the photo below (I’m the little face in the glasses near the pillar to the left of the stage), a good, live musical performance can bring me great joy, even when I think no one is watching.

Nan transfixed by 4-Way Street