Sad, Sad City

The city continues to wage war on clubs. The fining, suspending and eventual closing of many clubs speaks volumes about an administration, which in its quest to end smoking or coddle to real estate interests, has once again lost sight of the man or woman on the street. Clubs suffer from a zero tolerance policy from City Hall. If a couple of patron–out of thousands–light up a cigarette, city agencies swoop down and declare it a public menace. God forbid a couple of drunks punch each other. The city’s response is, “OMG! See what I mean?” And an order to close the place is obtained. If a drug dealer sells a joint, that becomes living proof of the reincarnation of Pedro Escobar and a declaration of war on the club is issued.

This might sound like an exaggeration, but when I spoke to M2 owner Joey Morrissey last week, he cited these very reasons for the shuttering of his joint that put over 400 New Yorkers out of work. However, go to a Dead concert at Madison Square Garden (Don’t go, take my word on it) and you’ll pick up on that sweet smell of familiar herbs. A fight might break out, cigarettes will be smoked here and there (despite the best efforts of MSG, their security forces and the hundreds of cops the city will supply for the affair), but nobody suggests closing that joint. If someone gets caught dealing a few pills, that person is arrested and nobody talks of closing the Garden or declares it a public nuisance. I guess if it happens during a Knicks game you’d have some takers.

We’ve talked about this before. The city is using the nuisance abatement law, designed to close whore houses and gambling parlors, to harass an industry that employs hundreds of thousands, generates billions in tax revenues and is frequented by more people in a year than the Yankees, Mets, Knicks, Rangers, Broadway shows and museums put together. The cops get a judge to close a club under the flimsiest of pretexts: a few people smoking cigarettes or someone sells a handful of joints or a couple of pills. A judge signs an order one day and the cops wait ’til Friday afternoon or evening when there is no judicial recourse and that’s that. The club is closed until Monday when invariably the order is overturned. However, the resulting loss of revenue puts hundreds on the street and hurts the club so badly financially that it can’t survive, let alone mount a vigorous defense in court.

Today I talk to Emily Lazar who has made her living in clubs while she chases her dream of being a rock star. Her appearance the other night with her band September Mourning at Irving Plaza, opening for Ratt marks a step towards her dream. There are thousands of people supporting themselves in a jobless economy by working in clubs. Many are actors, writers, musicians, dancers, students, poets, Broadway performers, mothers, fathers and such.

A billionaire mayor sits in the clouds and never really gets it, never understands the struggle. How could he? The loss of “night” jobs severely affects the ability of many creative folks to make it here. Dustin Hoffman, Bruce Willis, Debbie Harry and so many others worked in joints on their way to stardom. Emily Lazar sees a light at the end of the tunnel. Her ambitions have been supported while she worked with me and many others. It was work, a little sleep and band practice daily for so many years. Her big stage NYC breakout the other night is one story of many that tell a tale of careers that get paid for through night work. Irving Plaza was a big break. Now she’s hoping to break out.

You grew up in and around NYC working in clubs and in the scene. How would you explain this molding your artistic vision to what it’s become today? I started coming into the city when I was about 15. NYC is its own living, breathing creature. The city attracts so many artistic people in so many different industries and houses them on a relatively small island. It’s truly a melting pot of culture. The nightlife scene here has left its mark on me as a performer. The scene gave me the freedom to express myself in so many different ways. There were no limits. The more larger-than-life, the better. There are so many amazing personalities that have their roots in this scene. I think my artistic sense was developed through my exploration and creation of my own “characters” and personalities that I’d become when I’d dress up and go out. I can definitely see a correlation between my stage persona and some of the people I’ve met in nightlife. There’s definitely a little Kenny Kenny fierceness when I growl into a mic, and some Amanda Lepore sexiness when I prance around onstage.

You front the band September Mourning, but you see yourself as a performance artist. What distinguishes you as such? September Mourning started a few years ago as an art project. When we launch it in the fall you’ll see why I still reference it as such. The band started a little over a year ago. The music is the sonic impressionism, the costuming which I made and designed myself and the makeup and overall look is the visual presentation. There are a few other facets that’ll be revealed in due time. I consider myself a creator and connector, in all different mediums.

What’s your motivation behind your artistic pursuits? What drives you? Chuck Palahniuk said it best. “We all die. The goal isn’t to live forever; the goal is to create something that will.” We’re all given gifts and the resources to make our mark on this world and to accomplish the things we dream. We just have to have the courage to pursue them.

You’ve worked in clubs for many years while you pursue your career. What jobs did you have? I worked the door at some clubs and reception and helped in the offices and waitressed.

You’ve been trying to make it for awhile now. Are you getting closer to your goals? I’m definitely getting closer to where I wanna be. It used to be that I wanted to be on tour for the rest of my life, but now it’s a greater goal. I have an artistic vision and movement that I’d like to start/share with the world. I have an abundance of emotion and creativity inside of me. I’ve been waiting my whole life for the proper way to channel it and this project is it. We opened for Marilyn Manson on tour which was amazing. Kerry King from Slayer was there, DJ AM, so many people saw us. The Ratt show was also amazing because Irving Plaza is a special place for me. I’ve watched so many bands play there and I’ve always wanted to take the stage.

What drives you? For people like me, art is our sanity. It’s our husband. It’s our therapist. It’s our lover. It’s our most prized possession and the gun at the back of our head as well. It’s not something I do because it’s my job, more of an instinctual thing like breathing.

You’ve been linked romantically to a few famous players. Can you speak to that? I’ve dated a few guys who are in well-known bands. Dating other artists is one of the hardest things to do. First of all, finding time for one another in your schedules is nearly impossible unless you’re at the point where you are flying in private jets and have a house on both coasts. It’s pretty brutal. Right now I’m very focused on my career and where I need to get to. I feel like the rest of my life will fall in line when it’s suppose to. I like putting all of me into my art because it’s the one thing I can give my heart to knowing it won’t ever say it doesn’t love me anymore.

Who are your musical influences? I’ve always been a fan of heavy music. A lot of my influences stem from heavier bands. Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson, Dillinger Escape Plan, Slayer, Metallica, Sabbath. Recently, I was fortunate to be welcomed into the home of Ronnie Dio and his family for Easter. Dio’s voice has always been one of my personal favorites, and his career is inspiring. He was a staple in the metal world and of rock as a whole. Meeting and speaking with him was amazing. My heart goes out to Wendy and his family and friends. He’ll truly be missed.

1-2-3-4, Joey Ramone & the Time Before

imageMy club career began a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. I was sort of a friend, accessory and co-conspirator of the Ramones. I was dragged to see the band one night by a Staten Island girl named Teressa, who could have gotten me to go anywhere. At that time I was listening to classical music and jazz and was a regular at places like Fat Tuesdays and Smalls. Teressa dragged me through the throngs until we were a foot from Ramones’ bassist Dee Dee. I had never seen anything like them. Three or four minute explosions of catchy tracks with only a 1-2-3-4 shouted into the mike by the nearby rockstar to indicate that a new song had actually begun. Eyes that would later see through the frenzy and noise of crowded nightclubs to some necessary truths began to analyze what could endear me to my new obsession. I noticed the needs of the roadies, the only other calm people in the room that night, and the next week I caught up with the band at a Long Island gig with a couple of neighborhood blondes of bad reputation.

I hung with the roadies, who liked my friends and gave me access to the band and most importantly to my dear friend Arturo Vega. Arturo was the artist behind the band. He designed and hawked the famous logoed t-shirts, did their lights, and more importantly owned the loft on East 2nd Street — now Joey Ramone Place — which was the epicenter of all things Ramone. My chihuahua and true love of my life is named Arturo after my skinny and sometimes quick-tempered friend from Chihuahua, Mexico. Later I would befriend Dee Dee, who had slapped me in the face as he banged his bass at that Teressa-inspired gig. At the end of the show, he flipped me a guitar pick with “Ramones” stamped into it. The same stamp was inside my forehead, and jazz and classical music would be reserved forever for taxi rides with intellectual cabbies. I approached Dee Dee one afternoon before sound-check at an Amityville, Long Island hot spot. I was with the two neighborhood sluts who had also succumbed to a Ramones addiction.

We approached the volatile rock star armed with only a silly question, “Hey Dee Dee, do you like playing these small club gigs as much as the larger concert halls?” He replied by putting on his spy sunglasses and leaning his head against the clubs’ facade. Not a glance and no words, only cigarette smoke from Dee Dee. He, of course, had no obligation to answer a silly question from some annoying fan, but I stood there with my two groupie companions and chatted about Queens, Long Island, and I’m sure lots of embarrassing stuff. About 20 minutes later, Dee Dee lowered his sunglasses and said something like, “I like the big concert clubs but I like the small places too. I can get real close to the crowd.” He hadn’t been ignoring me, but taking his time and thinking about a query from one of the most important people in his life: a fan.

That attitude, that the fan — or in my case, the patron of my clubs — was one of the most important entities in my life is what made me successful. Dee Dee’s ex-wife Vera wrote a book about her experiences, which will be celebrated this June 7. I caught up with Vera on Facebook recently, and it was grand. It was Vera who asked me to produce a Dee Dee birthday bash, which would be the first party I ever threw. In months to come I became a fixture around the Ramones’ haunts and a regular at Arturo’s’ loft where Joey and his gal Linda where living.

One summer afternoon my roommate, Ramones roadie Danny Zykowski, Joey, and I went to an amusement park in New Jersey where the lanky rock n’ roll icon was rarely recognized. A couple of 12-year-old boys took delight in tormenting the gangly Joey in the bumper boats, and I was beyond hysterical seeing his knees above his head as he sat impossibly in a go-cart designed for humans with a different shape. He laughed all day, always taking time to sign an autograph or make someone feel important. Joey would be talking to you while crossing the Bowery, and just as you would be about to step on the curb on the other side of the street, he would dash back to the safety of the starting curb. My association with Joey, Dee Dee, and later Johnny gave me some juice at nightclub doors. I would double-date with Johnny, who had political views a little to the right of Attila the Hun. I tried to overlook our differences and celebrate what it was that we had in common. This Dalai Lama approach to friendship had its rewards, as doors in hotspots around town noted the fact that I had famous friends.

Later, Johnny would betray Joey, stealing his gal Linda away from him, and it was never the same backstage after that. Even I stopped believing in Johnny, except for his ability to keep the band going and stay true to its fan base. Joey referred to this betrayal by his right-wing guitarist in the song “The KKK Took My Baby Away.” “She went away for the holidays / Said she’s going to L.A. / But she never got there / She never got there / She never got there, they say,” is how it went. I remember hearing it for the first time in disbelief that Johnny was playing lead for it. I never got up the guts to ask him if he knew it was about him. I’m sure he would have said, “Of course, but it was a good song.”

They celebrated the life of Joey at a benefit at Irving Plaza last night. Rock legends, with every part of them aged save for their hairdos, gave tribute to a real nice man who lead a group of misfits out of the boredom of Queens and into international stardom. Before there was the Ramones, there was pre-Stevie Fleetwood Mac, and a boredom of music that was similar to our current club circuit. Punk changed the way we looked at rock. The genre took club life out of the doldrums and infused it with a basic energy and raw sexuality that has been lacking lately. Not since the birth of house and hip hop in the 80s has a musical genre taken the club world into a new, vibrant direction. Mash-up and electro and sounds spinning off of those are only now bringing excitement to a Serato-pacified DJ class. The Ramones lifted me up and put me down in a new and more enlightening place. I’ve got to thank my dear old friend Joey — or as some called him, Jeffrey — for taking the time to show me a better world. He, Johnny, and Dee Dee have all passed, yet they are now recognized as one of the most important rock bands ever. Spin magazine named them number 2, only behind The Beatles. It was Paul McCartney’s often-used alias Paul Ramone that inspired the name. Say it ain’t so Joey! Jeffrey Hyman, a.k.a. Joey Ramone, would have been 58 yesterday.