Don Hill Memorial Show Lineup, Rocco Ancarola Recovering

Christmas is like tomorrow, and the mayhem in the stores and in our brains has us desperately searching for that perfect gift for our imperfect friends,relatives and lovers. A pair of tickets to the December 15th Don Hill tribute gala at Irving Plaza, albeit a little early, will serve your rocker friends well. The event is being spearheaded by Trigger, a fixture in the NYC rock scene. He’s the guy you always see wearing the conical hat mostly associated with rice paddies.

Trigger owns Continental on the Bowery at St. Marks, that 5 drinks for $10 place. Continental used to book bands, but it’s hard to make money in that game, and the crazy drink special thing seems to work. Don Hill booked bands at his wonderful Soho dive club. He passed in March. It was a sudden exit for one of the finest gentleman around. His glorious spot Don Hills is shuttered without a viable replacement.

The tribute for Don Hill is getting bigger, with a lineup that just added New York Dolls front man David Johansen and The Psychedelic Furs’ lead singer Richard Butler and the infamous Jayne County and a special Squeezebox performance. There will be more "ands" as the date nears.  Those already slated to perform include Jesse Malin, Lenny Kaye, Dick Manitoba (featuring members of The Dictators), actor Michael Imperioli’s band La Dolce Vita, Adam Bomb, Bebe Buell Band, Daniel Rey, Trigger’s All-Stars, and Miss Guy (Toilet Boys), along with special appearances by Michael Schmidt (Squeezebox), and Mistress Formika. The event — "A Celebration of the Legendary Don Hill" — will gather those of us who have been dispersed into some strange rock purgatory devoid of a watering hole with a stage. It and Don were always there to provide the goods and scratch our hard to reach itches. Don Hill provided that joint for us for decades. Trigger says,"Don was a mentor to us younger club owners by example without even realizing it. He was simply the classiest and sweetest guy in the business, period. Don always had such an abiding love of the music and the artists that played it."

Hundreds of people turned out for Don’s memorial service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Mulberry Street, and there is an independent film in the works. Tomorrow I will talk to a few of Don’s closest friends about his love for all things rock, for the thousands he served and the impact he had on us all. Click here for tickets to the memorial show.

On another note, our prayers go out to Lavo’s Rocco Ancarola, who is hospitalized after emergency heart surgery. It was reported that he was hit by an aortic aneurysm while arriving at Lavo where he is a partner and ultra host. He is friends to all that go bump in the night but enemy to paper napkins which he constantly tosses in the air for affect. Before Lavo, he was the grand pooba at Pink Elephant. Facebook friends who have visited him report that "the operation was successful, he is in stable condition and recovering, but he is still under a medically induced coma."

Celebrating Legends Arthur Weinstein & Don Hill

Today is all about the old school. It would have been the 64th birthday of club legend and dear friend Arthur Weinstein, and tonight a ton of people who are grayer than they ever thought possible will gather for a tribute for the dearly departed Don Hill. This benefit at Irving Plaza will start at 6:30, not only because these days many of us roll that way but also because of the amount of talent that will be hitting the stage to show love. Although this list is likely to be incomplete, the following artists are slated to perform: David Johansen, Richard Butler (Psychedelic Furs), Jesse Malin & the St. Marks Social, Manitoba, Royston Langdon (Spacehog), Lenny Kaye, The Toilet Boys, Daniel Rey, Triggers All-Star Band, Theo, Hired Killers INC., Bebe Buell Band, Adam Bomb, La Dolce Vita (Michael Imperioli), Brucifer & Bitch Band, At War With the 60’s, and Girl to Gorilla.

There will be walk-ons and all sorts of rock-and-roll hullabaloo as a celebration of the life of Mr. Don Hill will require a true to your school rock fest. The pain of our loss is still real. The man and the joint that bore his name will always be impossible to replace. I look forward to seeing faces I haven’t seen in years. Some fool once said "you can’t go home again," and some people believe that shit. Tonight those who were there will return home to gather with their extended NYC rock family. At one point all of us will look at the rafters and smile for Don. At one point all of us will gaze down at the ancient wood floor and drop a tear on it. Irving Plaza has the chops, the credibility to host this gala. We all have seen a lot of great shows in that room. We will all come to praise this Caesar of rock and roll. We buried him months ago. There will much love coming from the stage and around the bars for a man that everyone found easy to love.

After all the bands, speeches, and such, Michael Schmidt will recreate his Squeezebox club night which was as much as a part of Don Hill’s as the tattoo art that he adorned the walls with. That should begin around 1am. Mistress Formika of Squeezebox fame will also host, as will Johnny and Chi Chi of "Mother," Frankie Inglese of "Beahver," and Justine D and Nick Mark of "Tis Was." If you have no idea what I am talking about then I behoove you to come and find out. Don Hill touched and changed the lives of so many. Tonight’s gathering will be all about the love that will never fade.

As I said up top, my dear friend Arthur Weinstein would have been 64 today. I posted this Winnie the Pooh quote on his still very active Facebook page: “If there ever comes a day when we can’t be together keep me in your heart, I’ll stay there forever”. The first time I saw Arthur was at Danceteria. I was a pay-to-get-in patron of that great old club and I was sitting in the restaurant part of the joint with a couple of friends. Arthur walked in with his beautiful wife Colleen. I had no idea who he was but all eyes were transfixed on the white tux-wearing club mogul. One of the wise guys at my table said "it takes a lot of practice to walk that slow." "What do you mean?" I asked. He explained that Arthur was walking very slowly to make sure everyone saw him and to make sure he saw everyone seated at the tables, acknowledging with a smile or a nod anyone he felt was important. I was intrigued by these thoughts of someone working the room and  endeavored to meet him. It took time and a lot of proving myself, but one day there we were constant friends and co workers. I named my dog after him and Arturo Vega. He was my go-to guy for advice when an honest voice was needed. He would never mince words. So often he would tell me I was fucking up just when I thought I was reaching Nirvana, and he’d be right. Sometimes when I was at my lowest, when the world was doing it’s best to beat me to a pulp he’d lift me to heaven. Not with words of encouragement, but with a couple tickets to a game or by introducing me to some unbelievable character that sold accordians or lived on the streets that he had befriended. When they came for me hard he was my backbone. He could see right through people, show me the worst in the best and the benefits of those I would otherwise ignore. Like Don Hill, we buried Arthur a while back but he still is in our hearts–forever

Marky Ramone’s Blitzkrieg With Andrew W.K.

Marky Ramone and I are old friends. There was a time when The Ramones were a huge part of my life. I was friends with Johnny, went on double dates with him, hung with Dee Dee and Joey and the insane entourage that surrounded them. I grew up in Jackson Heights, Queens, just a bike ride away from their Forest Hills roots. Johnny, Dee Dee and Joey have passed on. Chihuahua, Mexico born-Arturo Vega, the guy who did their stage production and designed all those T-shirts you all sport, passed just a minute ago. He was a dear friend. I named my best dog after him, a mean ass chihuahua who was unbelievably cool to people he liked.  They got along.

Marky is from Brooklyn; he’s the drummer I know best as Tommy the original moved on to production around the first album. The Ramones were one of the greatest live Rock and Roll shows I have ever seen. They played thousands of gigs—from small town halls to arenas. They toured the world. They became synonymous with the little guy breaking big. They understood the street, the problems of youth and frustrations of common guy love. They related. Their fans were frenzied. They are no more. The closest thing to the Ramones you will ever see is Marky Ramone’s Blitzkrieg. Blitzkrieg is a slashing set of Ramones tracks with only a requisite 1-2-3-4 between them. I’ve seen the band and it thrilled me, goosebumps and such. Now Marky has added the infamous Andrew W.K. as the lead singer. I cannot wait to see this.
This Saturday they will be at Irving Plaza (17 Irving Place at 7pm.) Tickets are available. I asked Marky to tell us about it.
You are touring with Andrew W. K. doing the "Joey spot".. do you think of it like that?  Is this a Ramones cover band or something else?
I wouldn’t say Andrew’s in Joey’s spot, Joey’s spot can never be filled. He was one of a kind. Andrew is great too, he brings a different thing to the songs and the live performance. I look at this band as the ultimate celebration of the best American punk band.
What has been the reaction to the act worldwide?
So far the reaction has been great. The most important thing is we’re playing music we love and we’re having a good time doing it.
You played with the band during most of the albums during the meat and potato years. You were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a Ramone, yet in some Ramones-centric quarters you get grief…the infighting continues long after the dearly have departed. When’s the book coming out.
I’m actually working on the book now. All I can say is, it’s gonna be good.
Are you featuring new material or any Andrew material?
We’re doing Ramones material that Andrew and I decided on. 
When are we DJing together?
Let me know. I’m ready to go.
Photo credit: Martin Bonetto
Main Image Photo credit: BobGruen

New Kids on the Block: 40 and Still Fine

It’s 6:30pm on a Tuesday, I’m smushed in the vestibule of Irving plaza. Me and about 40 other members of the press, along with approximately 200 fans, are about to be let into the main event of the evening: New Kids on The Block. It was widely reported earlier in the day that NKOTB was going to be hitting the road with 98 Degrees and Boys II Men for "The Package Tour." It’s like a tour through the decades! And also a weird sexual innuendo.

I have been an NKOTB fan girl ever since I can remember. My brother hooked me up with the cassette tapes in about 1990. I would dance in my room to every hit and fawn over Jordan Knight. I had all the paraphernalia: stickers, posters, trading cards, even a Joey McIntyre doll, which my dog mauled one summer. I spent the days picking up chewed limbs from the yard and when I found Joey’s head floating in my pool—yes, that was a sad sad day.

But now, in present day, I am 27 and my heart is still racing in anticipation that I am going to be in close proximity to all five New Kids. As I made my way up the steps of Irving Plaza, the members of the press are escorted to the stage. I am on stage at Irving Plaza? There’s a platform in the middle of the venue where the boy band is going to be performing. Rumor has it that soon to be tour mates 98 Degrees and Boys II Men are also in the building. Yup.

The stage is packed with everyone wanting the best spot to get the best shot. I look to my left and I am about a foot away from a passing New Kid—Jonathan Knight, number three on my list of New kids ranked in order of hotness.  I notice he has a small little ponytail on top of his head, which I am totally into. I hop down off the stage to get primo spot stage right. I am a genius and stood by the door they would be entering from. I wanted to high-five all of them as they made their way to the stage. While me and a half empty room of fans awaited the boys—now all well into their 40’s—the DJ ran through a slew of today’s hits: Bieber, One Direction, Fun, every song you unintentionally know all the words to. I was groovin. 

A little after 7pm, the MC of the night, radio host Robert Samson, amped up the crowd and NKOTB made their way to the stage. 1, 2,3,4,5 boom, hit em all, HOME RUN! I touched all the New Kids on the Block. They all exuded this energy that they have been doing this for a long ass time and can pretty much say and do whatever they want. There was no script for the evening, they just went out, rolled with it, and seemingly had a blast. They re-announced their tour as well with a new album due April 2nd. Together they went into a rendition of the gut wrenching classic "Please Don’t Go Girl"—still know every word and oh boy, did I love every second of it. They were singing to me!  Two songs later, 98 Degrees is making their way to the crowd. Frankly, I could give a shit about them, they played two of their hits and boom! Boys II Men is now also in my presence. I mean, picture the most ridiculous night of your life and then imagine twelve grown ass men whose posters littered your bedroom walls when they, not you, were teenagers.  I was in a constant state of jaw dropping amazement as well as WHAT THE FUCK is happening. 

While the fans in the room screamed and shrieked, I couldn’t even begin to fathom what this tour will hold for America and quite possibly the world. More hip gyration? YES! More take your shirt off? YES! More touching? YES, TOUCH ME! AGAIN! I went to the reunion tour four years ago and I can honestly say that I have never screamed louder in my entire life. Jordan, Joey, Jonathan, Donnie and Danny, let their shirts flutter in the faux wind and I almost passed out. These are grown men, and thank god their fans have also gotten older and not younger. When this tour rolls through your town, its going to be 3 1/2 hours of panic attacks and heart flutters. Are you tough enough.

Please enjoy this tune of the day.


Kreayshawn Opens Up About Fame, The Game, And Growing Up Punk

Kreayshawn is no stranger to controversy. The 22-year-old Oaklandite, who rocketed to fame with her 2011 viral smash "Gucci Gucci," has always had more detractors than fans. Whether she’s being celebrated as a sub-genre pioneer, trashed as a phony, championed by girls around the world, or panned by the blogosphere, one things for certain: she’s doing something worth talking about. 

The Group Hug tour, a nation-wide jaunt promoting her first LP, Something ‘Bout Kreay, pulled into Irving Plaza on Thursday. The result: one big room full of excited little girls. The show was fantastic, cute, and fun, like a revival of ‘90s Girl Power with more eyeliner and swearing. 

Having always found her oddly polarizing, I was interested to meet the girl who so famously called out Rick Ross for being a phony and dissed Nicki Minaj on her first mix tape. I was expecting someone brash, loud and opinionated. But who I met was soft spoken, thoughtful, and unaffected. Kreayshawn just knows her audience. The music she makes is for young girls to bounce to, not for Pitchfork to analyze. She has remained in many ways a positive figure for girls who are constantly subjected to the slutty party songs. They’re better off wearing a beanie and hoop earrings than trying to pull off Rihanna-sized shorts. You either get it or you don’t. Kreayshawn doesn’t care either way. 

We spoke with her backstage her before her set on her past, her new album, and everything in-between. 

What was it like growing up in East Oakland, and how “hood” was it?
It’s really ghetto, but at the same time there’s a sense of community. It’s not like everyone’s out to get each other. There’s the dangerous stuff like drugs, like pimps and hoes and gangs and stuff. If you’re trying to get into the wrong stuff it’s really easy to do that. 

Growing up in that setting, do you find it insensitive when people assume you’re a faker because you’re white?
Kind of. They don’t know what I’ve seen. They see a white girl and they say, "Oh she’s rich, her dad probably bought her a car," or some ridiculous shit, and it’s just not true. A lot of people that came from Bosnia look white as hell and over there they have nothing. It’s not fair to condense people into categories like that. 

You’re mom was in The Trashwomen. Was your house a punk house or did she keep it separate?
Oh yeah, it was like leopard-print everything, Elvis posters, Virgin Mary decals….

How do you think that influenced you in the long run?
It made it normal to be weird. Everything that I do is normal to me; anything that comes of weird or quirky to me is just normal. 

How did the transition from directing videos to rapping take place? Did you set out to become a famous rapper?
It just kind of happened. I had been making music forever, but I never made music with the intention of getting a record deal. I never thought of that. When it happened I was just like, woah. People are always like, "So, what did you do to get to this moment?" I don’t even know. It just kind of happened. 

This tour has a great line-up in that it seems to be pure you, like you basically brought your girlfriends on tour. Was this your decision? Was there any pressure to link up with a bigger act to ensure the success the tour?
My main goal was to have it be an all-girl tour. I saw Rye Rye before through watching M.I.A.’s stuff. Me and Chippy have known each other; I directed a video for her and she’s on my album. Honey Cocaine [is someone] I’ve always been a fan of. So yeah, it just happened that way. 

Your album released to less-than-ecstatic reviews, but it seems to me they’re just taking it too seriously. What’s you’re response to them, and how seriously do you take your work?
It’s just for fun. It’s always been my way of having fun. I’m the one who got signed for that kind of music, and Columbia was like, "Do whatever you want." I wasn’t really making the music to impress the blog community, because then all my fans would be like, "You’re boring now." There wouldn’t be lines of thirteen-year-old girls outside my concert; it’d be hip hop-conscious guys or something. 

You broke out really fast through the Internet, and through that you got a record deal. Do you feel popularity on the Internet’s sufficient enough to make it? Do people even need record deals any more?
It’s hard because on the Internet something is forgotten in 24 hours. A video might be cool and get a hundred thousand views, but in two days you’re like, "Complex tweeted my thing! Awesome!" and then, like… that’s it. But it’s all about personal levels. I’ve already exceeded my personal level of success. It’s more about how high you set your goals. 

Do you feel your extremely rapid rise to fame will affect the longevity of your career?
On my own, directing and stuff, I’ve been slowly building and releasing stuff online. I don’t know what my peak is, I don’t know if my peak happened already, or if I’m in it now, you know what I’m saying?

Do you think the total accessibility of your material hurt your album sales?
Yeah, that, and they only stocked the album at Hot Topic…

Yeah, what was up with that?
I don’t know. The label thought it would be a good idea or something. It sucks because my manager, he puts out records for all kinds of Bay Area artists, and he was saying I could have gotten more records sold knowing his connections at Amoeba and Rasputin and stuff—just local stores. So it just sucks because people still hit me, like my mom doesn’t have a copy… I just got a copy. And on top of that they only stocked five every time. So people would be like, "Oh, I finally made it to Hot Topic, but it was sold out." 

Fame now seems to be about dissolving the barrier between you and your fans. Does it ever get tiring, constantly sharing yourself with the world like that?
Yeah, I’ve kind of fallen back from being a constant presence because that’s how I’ve gotten myself in trouble a lot with shit-talking or beef where it’s just misunderstandings on the internet. 

Is the Rick Ross beef still a thing?
No, definitely not. (laughs)

Your new album is more poppy than previous releases. This seems to be an emerging trend in rap in general. Where do you see the intersection of rap and pop laying, and is it dissolving?
For me, every song was supposed to be a popular version of a sub-genre that I like. There’s a New Orleans-inspired track, but it’s, like, the safe version. A lot of my stuff is dancier because I was working with one person at the time and he loves dance breakdowns. I’m all down for the dance breakdown until I’m on stage and I can’t dance and I’m just like, heyyyyyyyy

With this current intersection of hipster culture, pop music, total materialism, and rap, do you think gangsta rap is even being made anymore?
It is somewhere, for sure. Maybe the definition of gangster music might have changed also, but there’s always going to be everything being recorded. 

Being so West Coast, how do you feel about New York? 
I’m a real California girl. It’s really hard for me; I get anxiety in the streets. But driving around right now, it’s super nice, all crispy and wintery. It kind of reminds me of San Francisco, but times a million. 

Photo by Brooke Nipar

Justin Timberlake & 901 Tequila Are Throwing a Free Concert in NYC

When was last time Justin Timberlake was wrong about something? The guy seems to be spending a great deal of time making the right decisions and all the right moves. He’s behind the brand 901 Tequila, and tonight at Irving Plaza he’s presenting the Memphis-based hip-hop group, FreeSol (signed to his label Tennman Records) in advance of their debut album, out in October. Since today is 9/1—you know, September first (and I’m really sorry if I’m the first to break that news) and the Tequila is 901—the festivities will begin at 9:01 P.M.

I have it on good authority that you need to get there early, because this shindig is on a first come, first served basis, and I figure the line is starting as you’re reading this now. So it’s free, it’s boozy, and it’s new music from a group endorsed by Justin Timberlake. Now, these kind of affairs and business dealings always have a man behind – or right next to – the man with all the attention. That guy is Kevin Ruder, an old friend of Mr. Timberlake. I asked Mr. Ruder to tell me all about it.

You co-own 901 Tequila with Justin Timberlake and you guys are taking over Irving Plaza to promote FreeSol. Is this like Vince and Turtle in Entourage, where Vince gets involved with that Tequila? How did you and Justin hook up for this Tequila company? Justin and I have known each other for a while. I worked at Anheuser-Busch for about 13 years and one day he called me and said, ‘Hey, I’m thinking about doing my own Tequila, I really love the process of making it, and I obviously love tequila, what do you think about that?’ I said, ‘Well, it’s not something you can just decide you want to do for a weekend and see what happens, if you want to do this, then it has to be 100% your money and your commitment.’ And then we went into the business together about 3 years ago. It took us about a year to find a distiller that we were comfortable with and had a product that would formulate to exactly what we were looking for. We launched in 2009 in four states, and picked up a few more states later on that year and each year has grown bigger and bigger and now we have national distribution.

Is tequila the new vodka? I hear this sort of banter all the time these days. This is not the same tequila I was drinking ten years ago, getting a headache the next day. The new Tequilas are distilled and restaurants like La Esquina, have 150-plus options on the menu. Obviously I’m a little jaded but I think it’s better than vodka. Tequila is now being compared to wine because of how long the process takes. Agave has to grow for eight years before it can be harvested and made into tequila. It’s not like vodka where you can grab any kind of starch and make it, especially with 100% agave tequila, which is important. It’s not what you and I were used to when we were younger—slugging back shots and making a face, there are more sipping varieties, and some that are great for mixing with juices. Instead of just a margarita, there are now so many different cocktails and options for tequila, whether it be in a mixed drink or on the rocks. And you’re seeing 100% agave tequila drive the category and open people’s eyes to what tequila really is.

Who do you expect to show up at the FreeSol concert tonight? Justin Timberlake fans? Since we’re sponsoring it, it’s a 21-plus show, and that helps tremendously. We don’t have to worry about anyone too young being somewhere that we don’t want them to be. I think it will mimic both FreeSol’s style and our own style, which is geared toward a young, edgy crowd who are looking for something a little different. They’re a tremendous band, they’re young and we’ve been sponsoring them from the get go because we really like what we’re about. I think it will be that 22-35 year old crowd that likes music that’s a bit different, like urban pop with a lot of horns. It’s just a great hi-tempo show. You’re renting a venue for an entire night, giving free away admission and free liquor.

As the CEO of a liquor company, what’s the value at the end of the tunnel? The one thing we have is September 1st. That’s 901, so that has to be our day. It has to be our day this year, next year, and in 20 years. Our goal is to throw a great party, not just ‘hey this is our tequila come check it out’ or ‘hey, this is Free Sol, come check it out’ or ‘hey, come get a picture of Justin on your camera phone.’ This is ‘hey, come have a good time experience, not just on the Tequila side, but on having a good time side.’ There are lot of things we can gauge from that. If I have 1,000 people leave that night saying, ‘these guys are fun, these guys are my kind of people,’ in the future when they think of Tequila, they’ll say ‘901 is a good product, I had a good time that night, I want to mimic that again.’ And the folks that aren’t in New York are going to read about it, see pictures and say ‘hey, these guys aren’t stuffy, they’re not so ultra premium that you can only buy it for $150 a bottle. Yes, it’s priced a little more than Cuervo, but these guys are pretty normal and down to earth.’

The Hurricane that wasn’t for so many here in the Big Apple, was actually a big deal for a great deal of people. As I write this on Thursday morning my prayers and good wishes go out to my boy Seamus Regan. It seems his sister Sheelagh and a wedding party of 40 people got themselves cut off from civilization in the town of Pittsfield, Vermont. It seems Vermont and other regions north of us got hit real bad. All of the roads are washed out and the National Guard are trying to rescue them. They have no electricity and food for only about 5 days and I’m hoping the Jameson and Powers holds out. Seamus is one of New York’s fastest and most sought out bartenders and owns Salon 13 in the East Village. He has a home up there near Killington where he spends the winter months snowboarding and such with Brian Mitchel of Park Slope’s Brookvin and George Ruotolo owner of Whiskey Town and Whiskey Brooklyn as well as Chris Buckley owner Hanson Dry, Brooklyn. They may be out by the time you read this, as there was a 2-hour window this morning that rescue workers were trying to solidify.

I often take the L train home late at night. It leaves me inches from my Williamsburg home. A common sight is the boxes of Artichoke Pizza hungry hipsters are holding on their laps with great anticipation. Now, with the newly minted frozen Artichoke pies there may no longer be a reason for them to venture into Manhattan ever again. With a branch opening in Williamsburg as well, it may mean the absolute end of Manhattan nightlife as we’ve known it.

Summer Trend Warning: Musician-Endorsed Eyewear

The next trend in eyewear appears to be singer-songwriter branded shades. Case in point? Oakley has tapped songstress Kate Voegele to wear a new model of sunglasses for the brand this year. The integrated marketing runs deep between Voegele and Oakley. “We’ll be giving away a pair of Oakley sunglasses every night at the shows,” she wrote recently on her blog. Voegele’s fall tour supporting Natasha Bedingfield comes to New York City tomorrow night at Irving Plaza.

The Oakley partnership extends not only to the glasses, which feature the singer’s bright drawings on the inside of the frames (she paints in her spare time and did the artwork on her latest CD cover), but Voegele has also appeared at Oakley events recently in Los Angeles, just north of where the One Tree Hill actress currently lives.

Oakley has supported Voegele’s touring efforts since 2009, and she is one of the faces of the company’s “Perform Beautifully” campaign. Her “Signature Series Oakley Beckon” shades arrive in stores this September.

Of course, Voegele isn’t the only singer songwriter in the eyewear field. Everyone’s favorite old-school songstress, Lisa Loeb, has turned her signature cat-eye glasses into a side business. Last month, the “Stay” singer launched a new series of glasses with Classique Eyewear that includes streamlined pieces in black and tortoiseshell, as well as embellished options punctuated with rhinestones and etchings.

Celebrating Joey Ramone’s 60th Birthday

Tonight will find me at Irving Plaza for Joey Ramone’s 11th Annual Birthday Bash. Joey, of course, passed away back in 2001 from lymphoma but he would have been 60-years-old today. Punks like me never thought of being 60. Even 40 seemed ridiculous. It meant being “old” and at its core punk was youthful, hormonal, frustrating, and rebellious. It was something for 20-somethings. Now, a generation of survivors of that era will gather to see their aging icons on stage and get a whiff of the best days of our lives.

All of the unusual suspects will be on hand to remember and celebrate and see who’s still around. The stage will have some ex-Ramones and some Blondies, television’s Richard Lloyd, Bebe Buell and others who were there or have the spirit. It’s all for a good cause, benefiting the Lymphoma Research Foundation. The whole affair is put together by Joey’s brother Mickey Leigh.

Back in my punk youth I had the honor of hanging with the Ramones. My 17-year-old dog Arturo is named after their lighting guy, artist, godfather, Arturo Vega. Arturo designed those t-shirts that you see everyday on young punks, young Turks and fratboys showing how hip they are. Arturo’s loft, commonly referred to as the Ramones loft, was where I first met Joey when he was staying there. The corner signpost officially naming the street Joey Ramone Place sits half way between his home and the John Varvatos store which at one time was CBGB’s, one half of the center of my universe. Max’s Kansas City, now a deli on Park Avenue South, being the other half.

The sad tale of Joey’s gal sneaking around with band mate Johnny defined the latter years of the Ramones. Maybe the great track “The K.K.K. Took My Baby Away” refers to it, maybe it doesn’t. There is so much controversy about what really happened then. There remains so much infighting and politics and revisionism. I hear that this one isn’t talking to that one and then they make up because there’s still gold in them there hills with branding and products still being hawked and sold on the internet. The catalog of songs still sell and are used in movies and TV soundtracks. Although things got better later, I always remember money being tight. They were rock stars without Bowie or McCartney money. They lived in modest apartments not Hollywood or Westchester mansions. The one thing I remember clearly is how loving, generous, kind and true to his school Joey was. I spent more of my time hanging with Dee Dee and Marky and Johnny, who I double dated with when he pined for an uptown friend of mine. I still am in touch with Marky and I lived at the Chelsea when Dee Dee did. His wife Vera tasked me to throw his birthday bash at Max’s. It was my first party promotion. Dee Dee and I would always chat. He was a real rock star. He was hysterically problematic.

Whenever I was with Joey, the conversations were engaging and always amusing. He cared about what people said and even though he towered over most he never looked down at them. Although he had trouble crossing a street by himself, he could talk deeply about music and so many subjects. One silly day I went with him to Action Park with a silly band of punks. Action Park was all suburban New Jersey with bumper boats, waterslides, cotton candy, and hot dogs. It was all families and high school daters. We were freaks . People came up to Joey to see the sight and some actually recognized him while most had no idea. He engaged them all and exchanged good natured ribbing. He had had a lifetime of practice. Some pointed and ran away but most wanted to know more. His charisma winning them over, he was all smiles like a world that had never accepted him now did. On the bumper boats a couple of 12-year-olds sporting their dad’s crew cuts zoomed in on him with destruction on their minds. It was war and Joey rose to the occasion and attacked back. They all laughed at each other after the battle was over. Everyone had won. On the go carts Joey’s long legs were a problem. His knees bent so high as to cover his eyes which were always mostly covered by his hair. Somehow he managed and zoomed around the course and won and then we did it again and again. Everyone of that time has a Joey story or three. He was accessible, so much a part of the scene, so much the reason for the scene.

It’s been eleven years since his death, which came right before the World Trade Center attack outlawed America’s naivety. Naivety was one of punks’ most endearing qualities. The world has changed so much since then and even more since the first time I saw the band at a club called My Father’s Place out in Roslyn, Long Island. At that time in my life, I was wearing suits with thin lapels and thinner ties and hanging out in jazz clubs catching the likes of Freddie Hubbard and other trumpeters. A hot blonde took me to see the Ramones who I had known about since I was young. They were in the next neighborhood over in Forest Hills and his band had broken out and were making their mark. Friends of mine had told me about their friend Mickey and his freaky brother Jeffrey who would become Joey.

They’d come over and Jeffrey was watching TV and was weird but now he was a rock star…go figure. Now I was in the crowd at the small club and I was shoved to the front of the stage and Dee Dee was inches from me and Joey a few feet. We all jumped up and down with only a 1-2-3-4 to tell us we had moved on from that song. I was blown away and changed for life. They were singing about a feeling inside of me that I had spent so much energy hiding from view. Their music was celebrating my fears and frustrations and core . I became a follower, a fan, and eventually a friend. Nothing about that has changed. Now older than the craters on the moon I still walk around with those feelings, now embraced instead of embarrassing. The Ramones had a lot of songs with a lot of messages but the one message that seems to blanket it all is that it’s more than alright to be who you are. Happy birthday Joey Ramone and here’s to many more.

Echo & the Bunnymen Revisit Their Classic First Albums Live

With all the hipster raiding of post-punk aesthetic closets these past several years, it’s an ideal time to be reminded of a couple of the movement’s most glorious treasures. Echo & the Bunnymen, after trotting out a new production of their most piercing classic, Ocean Rain, a couple of years ago, are now touring an encomium to their first two powerful — and still startling — releases.

Indeed, their debut, Crocodiles, exhibited a sparse, almost brittle sound that gave an eerie, gripping undercurrent to the likes of “Going Up” and “Monkeys”, while singer Ian McCulloch wove mysterious tales of drug hazes (“There’s people rolling ’round on the carpet / Passing ’round the medicine”) and going off the rails (“Won’t you come on down to my rescue”). On Heaven Up Here, a focused and terrifying power took hold, with tracks like “Show of Strength” and “Over The Wall” as exhilarating as they were unsettling. McCulloch, the specter of Jim Morrison ever lurking, howled, “As nightmares swell / Some pray for Heaven while we live in Hell.”) It was even said of him at the time that while Morrison would have commanded his fans to their knees, the Bunnymen singer would sooner drop to them himself.

The cream of the cool — from Editors to Bloc Party to, especially, Arcade Fire — have all paid their tributes to Echo in interviews and, most importantly, in their music. Now comes the chance to truly understand what they’ve been bloody on about, as the Liverpool legends play Crocodiles and Heaven Up Here end-to-end live.

Echo & The Bunnymen play the Paradise Club in Boston May 9, the 9:30 Club in DC on May 11, the Trocadero in Philadelphia on May 12, and Irving Plaza in NYC May 13 and 14. Shows in Chicago, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Anaheim follow, before a string of European festival dates.

Echo & the Bunnymen – Stars Are Stars (Live) from Girlie Action on Vimeo.