Musical War Stories: Open Up Your Door (to the garage)

This was the song that started it all.

This was the song that started it all.

(c) 2013, Fran Fried

It was a Friday night, late winter 1983, the last semester of my senior year on the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University. (I thought it was mid to late February, but my usually reliable memory might have been off; I remember that Sunday being the launch of the United States Football League, which would’ve made this the first Friday of March.)

I was wiped out after a long week, and, without a car and with nothing huge going on that I knew of on campus — and it being pretty damn cold for late winter — I did something unusual for me: I took a nap after dinner. Just flat-out crashed on my bed in the Nassau Hall room (123) I occupied all four years there. (Yes, I got out with my diploma in four.) Right on top of the bedspread.

It had been a pretty blissful Z session — at least until the phone rang. And the black New York Telephone-issued phone anchored to my wall was pretty fucking loud by anyone’s standards. And even louder when you’re asleep.

I mumbled something along the lines of “Who the fuck’s calling me?” and stumbled off the bed and to the phone and slurred in my best groggy voice, “Helllllo?”

I keep hearing there are no coincidences. And this call — entirely out of the blue, from an acquaintance who had never called me before — would take me on a trip that did nothing less than change the course of my musical tastes for the next … well, rest of my life.

*****

I had never hung out with Tom. He was a film major; I was a communications major, leaning toward a career in radio (though my first internship at my hometown paper the previous summer kinda changed that). I had seen him at classes and occasionally at functions, but that was about it. I mean, we’d chat from time to time, but that was no different than was the case with a lot of other people I met over my four years.

So yeah, it was a bit of a surprise when I picked up the phone and heard his voice.

“I was wondering if you wanted to do something in the City tonight,” he said.

Manhattan is a half-hour west of the campus in Brookville, which is about four miles from Exit 39 of the Long Island Expressway. While I didn’t have my own car on campus, I certainly didn’t have much trouble getting away my last couple of years there. One of my best friends at school, Evan, lived across the hall, and more times than I could count, I would end up being the designated driver as we and some of his friends from Queens would pile into his car and go clubbing. And, as a White Castle fiend, one last payoff for me was usually stopping at a Murderburger joint in Queens (usually on Queens Boulevard in Sunnyside or Elmhurst) on the way back to school.

But Evan wasn’t around this night, my frat (yes, your gracious hostess was once a part of Kappa Delta Rho) didn’t have anything planned, and it was just gonna be nothing but blah on a cold and quiet winter night. At least until Tom called. I woke up pretty quickly.

“What do you want to do?” I asked.

“I don’t know. I figured we’d pick up a copy of the Voice and see what was going on.”

Sounded good to me.

He stopped by about an hour later — which gave me time to clean up and change and record the new U2 album, War, to play on his tape deck.

I met him in the lobby. Back to the parking lot and down Northern Boulevard we went, in a beat-up van from the ’70s (I’d like to say it was a  Chevy).

There was a 7-Eleven I knew of in Roslyn — and infamous in my short life. Evan and his roommate, Paul (who had become the bass player for one of the early bands in the Lower East Side hardcore scene, Mental Abuse), and I went to see the Bad Brains at CBGB the previous fall. (This was not long after their landmark ROIR cassette came out.) We stopped at the same 7-Eleven that autumn Saturday night and I made the mistake of buying a six of Bud — and finishing most of it in the back seat by the time we got to Queens.

My bladder was so excruciatingly full that I made Evan stop right at the fork of the Grand Central and the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway to take a life-or-death leak. And by the time we got to CB’s about 10 minutes later, the alcohol was affecting the rest of my body. Ran outside to puke, then went back in, and during the break between bands, I told Evan I wanted to go sit in the car for a few minutes. This had to be around 11:30. When I woke up, the headlights were hitting the back door of the dorm — at quarter to 5. My very first pass-out. Oh, great. I never did get to see the Bad Brains after that …

No mistakes like that this time. I grabbed a Pepsi and the latest Village Voice and off we went.

As alternative weeklies lay dead (The Boston Phoenix) or irrelevant and/or on death’s doorstep (the Advocate papers in Connecticut) or otherwise shadows of their former selves (the Voice), it’s hard to explain to twentysomethings of this generation just how important alt-weeklies were for a music fan, pre-Interwebs. You’d wait for Wednesday for the new issue to arrive, which would be loaded with ads from clubs, including their listings for the next week or so.

And I turned toward the back end of the tabloid and quickly scanned the ads. And the Peppermint Lounge was featuring The Raybeats and The Vipers that night.

Jackpot!

The Raybeats were a clever, hipster (back before it became a dirty and overwrought word) surf/instrumental combo from the City. I had heard two songs of theirs from Start Swimming!, a live LP that Stiff Records had released in ’81, featuring two live songs apiece from them, The Bongos, the Bush Tetras, The dB’s and The Fleshtones. And I really dug their two songs. “International Operator” had a ’60s spy/suspense/thriller feel, but I really, liked “The Rose and Fall of Flingel Bunt.” I didn’t know until middle age that it was a revved-up version (with organ) of a ’60s instrumental by The Shadows.

And I had no idea who The Vipers were, but I thought it was a cool name, in a rakish sort of way. And deejaying in the basement would be Lenny Kaye. I knew Lenny was Patti Smith’s longtime guitarist. Having been given a copy of the revised version of The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll for Christmas in 1981 and having read Lester Bangs’ essay “Protopunk: Garage Bands,” I knew Lenny had put together Nuggets, the out-of-print two-LP 1972 compilation on Elektra Records that essentially turned a certain ’60s rock’n’roll sound into a posthumous genre called garage. And I was interested in hearing what he had to spin.

Tom was perfectly agreeable to this, so off we went, headed toward the Village, toward Fifth Avenue and 18th Street.

*****

It was a huge room, with a bluish cast to the lighting. We got there in time to catch the last two or three songs by The Vipers, and that was an ear-opener. They were full of mad, stylized (and stylish) ’60s organ swirls, loud fuzztones and even louder guitar, with a vocalist with a striking voice.

(It was not long afterward that I found that my world would come together in weird places — something that would happen quite often the older I got. As a member of the staff at WCWP, the campus radio station, in addition to my weekly midnight-to-3 shift on the new wave format, Midnite Progressive, I had to engineer a live broadcast one evening a week by a husband-and-wife team of psychologists, Carl and Rae Weiss. I was wearing one of my many rock T-shirts one night as I was setting them up, Rae asked me if I had ever heard of The Fleshtones. She told me that her son, Jon, had played saxophone with them, and now he led another band called The Vipers. Insert theremin soundtrack here …)

I made a mental note to remember as I stood and watched them break down their equipment and eagerly awaited The Raybeats.

And then I felt a tug on my coat. It was a huge and heavy blue Air Force coat I found a couple months before at The Antique Boutique on Broadway, around the corner from Astor Place. Just like the one my father wore in the Air Force in the early ’50s, except I had attached a slew of buttons to the lapel. And who the hell was grabbing my coat?

I wheeled around. It was a cute blonde.

She smiled and told me she was just looking at my buttons.

Okay, I thought. That was a pickup line if there ever was one.

“Oh, okay,” I said and turned back around.

Must’ve been two minutes later, tops …

She grabbed me and took me over to the bar and bought me a drink. (I’m guessing, knowing my taste back then, it was a Rolling Rock.)

I wasn’t resisting.

Her name was Carole. She lived in California — in Los Alamitos, a working-class city in Orange County, east of Long beach and southeast of Los Angeles — and was in the City visiting a friend. She thought I was a “cute little punk boy,” as she put it, and actually back then, I was pretty good-looking, though my nearly lifelong self-esteem problems — not to mention the gender confusion bubbling beneath the surface — prohibited me from seeing that.

And we started to kiss. (Which was a huge deal for me. For one, even though I had just had a girlfriend for a couple months before and after the holidays, I couldn’t imagine that girls were attracted to me. For another, I was still a virgin.) And we continued to suck face for the proverbial puppy-love eternity. And then we decided to go take a walk around the Village and walk and talk. So the coat went on and out we went into the cold of late winter, leaving poor Tom. It didn’t feel that cold. At least for a while.

Eventually, we needed to get back. But not before we stopped at a Korean grocery and, under the heat of the canopy, I bought a bunch of yellow flowers for her. Probably because I associated yellow with California.

*****

Needless to say, we missed The Raybeats. But Lenny was still spinning in the basement. And Tom didn’t seem to have any lingering abandonment problems when we caught up with him.

So Mr. Kaye was in the process of playing his 45s from the ’60s. And then one stopped me dead in my tracks.

The song had a certain ’65 feel about it. It was a throbbing, pulsating sound. Heavy fuzz bass, guitars that sounded like chimes, a soulful beat, a snotty lead vocal, a stomp-and-shout, call-and-response refrain … and blood-raising screams.

“What the hell is that!?!” I said out loud. (And it did strike me that this could turn into that SNL sketch with Steve Martin if I got carried away …)

I had never heard anything like that before.

My musical tastes had been all over the place much of my young life — my parents’ old-folks’ music, my father’s Johnny Cash and Hank Williams and Frankie Laine, Beatles, ’70s cheese, The Beach Boys, what would become known as “classic rock,” and now punk and new wave and the ground floor of hip-hop. And since I lived across the hall from a bass player, the first thrashes of hardcore.

But this stopped me where I stood. Even the snottiest ’60s sounds I’d heard to that date — “Paint It, Black” — didn’t sound this snotty. So dweeby college student walked over to rock’n’roll star and squeaked, “What’s that song you just played?”

“It’s ‘Open Up Your Door’ by Richard & the Young Lions,” said Mr. Kaye, very casually.

I didn’t remember the title of the song at the time, but you can’t forget a name that cool.

The night was winding down, so sometime close to 2, the three of us left and headed to some diner, I believe on 23rd. Then we dropped off Carole in front of her friend’s place on Park Avenue South — but not before we arranged for me to come back into the City and meet her the next night.

*****

I now had an audio to go with the visual.

When I read Bangs’ essay in the Rolling Stone book, it had some cool photos (The Count Five in Dracula chic, The Barbarians, with Moulty, their drummer who had a hook for a right hand) and a lot of cool names (The Remains). But I knew of nowhere I could go looking for this music. Nuggets, after all, was out of print. Twice over. And I wasn’t savvy — or rich — enough yet to go looking for used records.

Lenny playing the Young Lions made me say “Ahhh — that’s garage!” And with its three-chord simplicity, I could see why it was being considered the original punk rock. It had an energy level that most new wavish sounds didn’t have — a snottiess not heard since the Stones’ heyday. And while I liked hardcore, I would get tired pretty quickly of the whole playing 300 miles an hour, with lyrics too hard to understand and melodies too fast to notice. And I now had a new old avenue to explore.

Epilogue

I never did hang with Tom again. I mean, nothing bad happened — we were just two people who were bored and looking for something to do, but that was about it.

Carole? Well, I did take the train into the City the next night, eager with anticipation. Well, it didn’t go that great. No details, but there wasn’t any animosity, either, Probably a good thing, as I was still a virgin and probably wouldn’t have been ready for the emotional fallout had it gone that far, which it very well could have. Anyway, we did keep in touch sporadically until around the end of 1984. I think the last time I talked to her was a call at Christmas. By then, we were both seeing someone, too.

I did eventually get to see The Raybeats — right outside my dorm. A month and a half later, they were booked to play in our quad the Saturday afternoon of Spring Weekend. It was sunny, about 70 degrees warmer than that night at the Peppermint … and they all looked hung over. And despite the lone idiot yelling “Flingel Bunt!,” they never played it. I was underwhelmed. But I did pick up their Guitar Beat album in New Haven that summer, after graduation, and it was pretty cool. Yet, I was glad I ditched them that night for some face-sucking and a walk around the Village with a California blonde.

And me?

Well, as I immersed myself in the New Haven alt-music scene — buying records, deejaying at the Grotto when it opened later that year — I finally made inroads into the garage world. In the winter of 1984, I found my own copy of Nuggets — a cutout of the 1976 Sire reissue, in the Ted Nugent bin at Railroad Salvage in West Haven. (Well, he was on there with The Amboy Dukes …)

Around that time, I picked up a copy of the promo 12-inch of The Fleshtones’ “American Beat ’84” at Festoon’s in New Haven. By that time, I had started hanging with a new colleague at the Waterbury Republican-American, where I had just joined the sports staff after two internships. Danny Ly, from Elmhurst, Queens, and a recent Columbia grad, raved about The Fleshtones. I mean, I had their first released album, Roman Gods, and would play “Chinese Kitchen” occasionally on my college radio show. But I was finally starting to get it. Especially when I saw them live at the Grotto that fall — the full super rock effect. (And Danny would learn the bass and play for two legendary New Haven bands: garagers The Double Naught Spys and the garage-influenced Botswanas).

By year’s end, they were my favorite band. And we also started going to shows in the City. Lots of them — at Irving Plaza, at the Strip, at Brownie’s, at Maxwell’s in Hoboken. And I got to see a great many great bands and meet a great many people from the scene who’ve grown to be friends of mine.

On my 23rd birthday in 1984, walking around the East Village, I stopped in at Sounds on St. Mark’s to check out records — just as the cashier placed the needle down on On Fyre, the new album by a Boston band I had just heard of, The Lyres. Another stop-me-in-my-tracks musical moment. And there would be more. The Vipers’ first full album, Outta the Nest!, came out just before Christmas. And in the late ’90s, Jon Weiss would be the organizer of a series of (mostly) annual garage festivals called Cavestomp!, which brought legendary act after legendary act to NYC — ? and the Mysterians, The Remains, The Pretty Things, The Monks, The Standells, The Sonics.

And back in New Haven, my record store of choice became Rhymes Records, which was owned by a psychedelic guitarist, who kept the store well-stocked with Pebbles and Back From the Grave compilations and the latest cool records from both sides of the Atlantic. And one cold and rainy afternoon in late ’84, I spied a new garage comp — Open Up Your Door! Yes! That was the name of the song! And sure enough, it was the first song on Side 1. I bought it, brought it home and played it 25 times over.

Yes, I was immersed in the garage sound — ’60s and latter-day.

And I did get to see Richard & the Young Lions.

July 15, 2000, a humid Saturday night at Maxwell’s in Hoboken. Their first show in about 33 years. And the fat guy in the Brian Wilson T-shirt and the black doo-rag standing in front of the stage, three feet from Richard Tepp and sweating and screaming his brains out as they started (and later ended) the show with “Open Up Your Door”? Uh, yeaaaah, that would be me. And Richard, the picture of garage virility with that snotty look and that lion’s mane back in the day, was pretty frail with the leukemia that would kill him four years later. But for that night, it very well could have been 1966 for him, them and us.

And I did get to see them twice more — at Cavestomp! that fall and then the following may at the Village Gate, opening for The Chocolate Watchband.

But that first time? That was truly special. One of my favorite shows of all time. I did feel a sense of full circle that night.

Kinda glad Tom made that lone serendipitous call that winter night in ’83.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

One Response to “Musical War Stories: Open Up Your Door (to the garage)”

  1. Jon March Says:

    That is a classic tale as only Franorama can tell!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: