Roxy, Johnny Thunder, Pacha, Oh My!

The Roxy, an iconic club once described as “the Studio 54 of roller rinks,” ran rings around it’s competition from the 1970’s until 2007. An attempted relaunch has been the subject of much behind-the= scene action featuring former owner Gene Dinino, who yesterday broke off negotiations with a group headed up by his former corporate events planner Neal Erman. Neal’s group had the money and ability to obtain a liquor license while Gene–who operated the joint from 1985 until its close–was in good standing with the landlord Mendy Taffel. Thousands of dollars per week separated the 2 parties, and yesterday it got ugly. Neal’s group has “spent 6 figures on soundproofing consultants and other planning” as they tried to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s, approaching yesterdays community board meeting.

All the work is now useless as “the landlord only felt comfortable if Gene was involved.” A source told me that “no other group will be able to duplicate the hard work done by Neal Erman. He was making a great effort to embrace the community and become a productive part of it.” Neal is furious with Gene, and now will walk away. Gene for his part, says he really wasn’t part of that groups plans but was listening to the offers which didnt, in his opinion “embrace his value.” He says he “will move forward”.

Although rumors of another group headed up by international DJ and all around nice guy Victor Calderone, spin right round like a record playing, Gene says he is not talking to them but is looking at another situation. My bet is John Blair who ran the long running gay-based Saturday night party will step up with investors. I think the club will present a less problematic posture if it goes this route. A source told me “Neal put in a great effort and would have been a great asset to the community. He is a really nice guy, But the two groups are miles apart and I can’t imagine anyone else getting a (liquor) license. The rent is around 60,000 a month and there are lots of debts, construction and soundproofing issues.” I’ve heard a lease of less than 4 years carrying a demolition clause is all that’s being offered. With the High Line’s proximity there will be restrictions on the height of new construction. Clubs may indeed bring their own problems, but tall buildings block sunsets and cast shadows. It may be possible that a club could last a while, and that a new building may never go up, but millions will be needed to get this ginormous place up to speed. This is a high stakes poker game and I can’t tell if everybody’s bluffing or actually holding the cards. I’m glad I’m just watching. I’ll keep you posted.

The death of rocker Willy Deville the other day reminded me of an old story. When rocker Johnny Thunders mysteriously died in New Orleans back in 1991, Willy happened to live next to his hotel. When reporters started to ask him what he knew, Willy made up the romantic story that the New York Dolls Heartbreakers superhero was found dead with his guitar in his hand. In reality, Johnny was found locked in a death grip “u shape” with his large methadone supply, passport and other valuables gone. My buddy Dee Dee Ramone blew the whole thing up and blamed the death on the unsavory characters that Johnny was hanging with. Yet the New Orleans police seemed to not give a damn about anoyher dead junkie and didn’t look too hard for his killers.

I grew up around the corner from the punk guitarist. He was Johnny Genzale back then, and he was the neighborhood creep. I remember him as a loser, a loner, the guy most likely to sniff glue. He was a few months older than me, and I at one point tried to be his friend. Even as a kid i was drawn to the fringe. He repaid me by stealing my baseball glove. I chased him down and got it back. He hadn’t sold it, he just wanted it to play ball with. For months after he would cross the street in fear of me. I reconnected with him back at Max’s Kansas City. We developed a loose friendship based on a common youth and neighborhood. He once pulled a beautiful blond groupie around the balcony at the old Ritz, now Webster Hall, to impress me, and degrade her. She allowed him to treat her like a dog and he winked at me with a “look how far I’ve come” look. It was frighteningly pathetic, but to most he was a fabulous rock star living an enviable life. I just saw the neighborhood sad sack faking happiness. I pulled a few needles from his arm over the years upstairs at Max’s, and bought him a few meals, then drifted out of his life as he sought stardom and embraced demons. I’d see him around the Ramones loft, Max’s, CBGB’s and the rest of the local joints. I’d always catch his bands. On stage he was lightning, power, anger, fear. He was a guitar hero. The dolls broke out glam, broke all the rules, but then broke up. Malcolm McClaren pushed the Heartbreakers who were just a hair from stardom. One night when his face looked like it was going to crawl away, Ramones artistic director Arturo Vega turned to me and said “when he first hit the Bowery punk scene, he looked like an angel. His skin was perfect, white like porcelain.” The price of limited fame and not enough of really anything except drugs and groupies was exacting its toll. Advanced leukemia was his very secret burden as well. Willy Deville said that “he went out in a blaze of glory,” and told a little white lie to add to the legend. Now my boy Black John has adapted a screenplay called Who Killed Johnny Thunders? into a one man rock show. I’m gonna catch it next time it plays out.

On a separate note, after winning its day in court the other day, Pacha was approved unanimously by community board 4 for renewal of it’s liquor license. The board asked the club to do a better job cleaning the nearby streets of flier litter, and to cooperate in a joint effort to gain more police patrols of the surrounding streets. This cooperation between the board and the mega club is sunshine on a cloudy day.

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