When the Bowery Was Electric

Some writer way smarter than me once noted, “You can’t go home again.” That’s Thomas Wolfe. I wrote a paper about it in my college days. If I had some time, I would go back to college and get formal educations in writing and design so my editors and partners would have more hair as they age, but what Wolfe said is true. Last night I went home to the Bowery in the early 80s. Back then I weighed in at a buck thirty five, wore ripped jeans, manic-panic pointy shoes, and a well thought out T-shirt. I was working on Wall Street during the day, on my way to becoming a commodities trader, but at night I became a punk rocker. When I DJ, I offer lots of stuff from that era which captured my heart. I bought all those punk anthems new, and many remain at my mom’s house. After quoting Wolfe I’m unclear if I’m allowed to go home to pick them up. Maybe mom will FedEx them. Last night I went to Vera Ramone King’s book release party at Bowery Electric for Poisoned Heart: I Married Dee Dee Ramone; Vera was a wife of my dearly departed friend Dee Dee Ramone.

Jesse Malin and Johnny T’s Bowery Electric is as close to going home as I’m going to get, located a mere second and a half from the street sign dedicated to Joey Ramone (2nd Street and The Bowery) and a half block north of where CBGBs should be. It’s around the corner from the Ramones’ loft where my dog’s godfather and namesake Arturo Vega — the artist who designed all those Ramones T-shirts worn by hipsters and old crows alike — still lives. He also did the lights and taught me showbiz. Bowery Electric is Bowery rock at its purist. Vera’s party was in the upstairs bar where Jon Derian pendant lights gave off kind illumination for the aging attendees. I hadn’t seen Vera in maybe 20-plus years. Back then I’d pick up her and maybe a sister and we would meet Dee Dee at the old Ritz or something like that. She lived in College Point, while I lived in Jackson Heights with Ramones roadie Danny Zykowski. I would stay close with Dee Dee in later years after the divorce as we both lived in the Chelsea Hotel.

Bowery Electric was jammed with a “who’s who was that?” gathering of Ramones followers. Everybody said I looked great, and it felt strange to be like the third-youngest person in a room. I chatted up Monte Melnick, the Ramones’ road manager, who told me about his book, On the Road with The Ramones, now in its third printing. His card has “Gabba Gabba Hey!” printed on it. Photographer Bob Gruen (you know him from his famous shot of John Lennon with sunglasses wearing a T-shirt with “New York City” on it) was accompanied by his brilliant artist wife Elizabeth Gregory-Gruen. Jimmy of Trash and Vaudeville fame was there, and I think he was wearing the same outfit from the last time I saw him back in 1986. Natasha Adonzio, who I produced fashion shows for before back in the day, was telling me she’s re-launching her line of spandex and wanted me to help in show production. I told her, “Spandex is coming back in a big way, but I personally can’t go home again.” Rock comedian Dave Street was there 20 years sober and still writing songs with my old pal Bobby Steele, lead man of The Undead. Their new record — coming out this week — is “I Made a Monster,” with “Sometimes You Gotta Laugh at Yourself” on the flip. These sentiments seem to perfectly describe my recent life, but still I told him I might not be able to go there. I mumbled something about Thomas Wolfe, and he looked at me like I had purple hair.

I watched an elderly woman dancing enthusiastically but alone in the back room. Her purple boa top contrasted brilliantly with her long gray hair. I think “Teenage Kicks” was blaring. She was straight out of hullabaloo or some other show from an even earlier era. Marky Ramone leaned over and said “go-go dancer,” and I turned to hug him. The last of the four Ramones (that I knew) greeted me like a brother. I told his beautiful wife Marion that I’m going to help them with their apartment this very week. It’s in writing, so it must be true. Marky and I talked a little business and reminisced. Some photos were taken, and I chatted up my friend Starr and Sarah from Stay Thirsty magazine. I started to leave as an important BBQ was awaiting. Mickey Hyman, Joey Ramone’s brother, squinted at me, and I said hello. He knew my face but couldn’t remember from where, and I was very relieved. I told him how he might know me, and he said “yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah,” about a dozen times.

Vera was signing books at the front of the joint. She was all decked out in rock and roll finery, chatting up friends as she wrote personalized messages. She was back home once again on the Bowery, armed with tales of her exploits and those of her punk legend husband. A large poster of her and Dee Dee in a different era was easeled behind her, and people were signing it. Back in the day, CBGBs’ walls were adorned with the signatures of the thousands who came through. My name was there in a spot eye-high, to the left of the door going down to the bathrooms. I picked up a sharpie and was about to write something. I looked over at Vera and back at the crowd, and thought maybe old Thomas Wolfe didn’t have a clue. I signed and felt great that I had indeed gone home again.

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