Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Exchanging Pleasantries with David Johansen

It was sometime in 1979, I was a roadie for The Buttons, Willie Phoenix's second-best band EVER, after Romantic Noise.  (Much more on them in a later post.)  Willie & the boys were hot in Columbus right then, they were the go-to band for opening slots at the 1300-person capacity Columbus Agora when the club booked "punk" or "new wave" acts.  David Johansen and his band were touring their first or second album, David was an ex-New York Doll, they were big, it was a great opening opportunity.

We loaded in right before Johansen’s soundcheck and got to stay around.  (Back then, not every band would let you watch their soundcheck.  Some of them cleared the club entirely.)  Johansen and his band were a BLAZING live act during that period.  Their SOUNDCHECK was better than 90% of the rock & roll shows I saw in those nascent synth-pop days.  First rule at the Agora for opening acts was "Don’t fuck with the headliners."  We were pretty much instructed not to even SPEAK to them, let alone try to pass off demos or stump for opening gigs in other cities.

But, as I was setting up Willie’s amp and such, David Johansen walked over to me and asked in that foghorn-rasp-Staten-Island-by-way-of-Brooklyn accent of his (for the uninitiated, rent that Bill Murray movie Scrooged, or check out a Johansen interview on YouTube), "So, we gonna have a rockin’ show tonight?"   I told him I thought we were.  He said, "These guys any good?" nodding over at Willie, Greg Glasgow, John Ballor and Dee Hunt, who were huddled in the wings, watching me ignore the rule about not talking to the headliners.  I told him, "Yeah, they’re great, they might actually give you guys a run for your money."

Johansen laughed skeptically but graciously at that and, emboldened by the fact that he spoke to me first, I carried on the conversation with, "Ya know, I saw you play here in Columbus at Vet’s Memorial with The New York Dolls in 1974."  Johansen stopped laughing, got instantly serious, looked me up and down and said, "Really? You don’t look like a faggot."   I was pretty taken aback by that reply and managed to stammer out, "Uhhh, I’m not, actually."  Johansen continued with, "Well all I remember coming back to the HO-tel after the show in Columbus at Vet’s Memorial in 1974 was faggots."  We both cracked up laughing at this, he high-fived me, told me to have a great show, spun around and conducted a perfect rock & roll star exit.

I had long hair on the West Side of Columbus, Ohio, in the 1960’s; I played in punk-rock bands on the West Side of Columbus, Ohio in the 1970’s; I was no stranger to being called a faggot.  That instance with David Johansen was by far the coolest.

© 2012 Ricki C.

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