Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Dressing Room

The Dressing Room is installment seven of A Life Of Rock & Roll. Parts one & two – The Bathtub and The Transistor Radio – can be found in the January blog entries; parts three, four & five – The Guitar, The Band and Dave Blackburn – in February, and part six – The Apartment – earlier in March.


1975 - 1977

And then the rot truly set in.

If I thought getting a band together in 1973 was hard, nothing had prepared me for the doldrums of those dreary days just before and after The Bicentennial. By 1975 Mott The Hoople & The New York Dolls had both broken up and by '77 Elliott Murphy, though neither he nor I realized it yet, had already released his last major-label record. My earlier naively rosy view that those three were gonna be The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan of the New Era of Rock & Roll was just not about to come true. By 1976 The Ramones’ first album was out, but punk was a long way from impacting the Midwest. And truthfully I had a working-class rocker mistrust of the artier side of punk rock. I didn't go for the "Look at me, look at me!" dress-up aspect of punk. I didn't trust The Sex Pistols and, as it turned out, I was right. Those art-poser sissies barely lasted out their first American tour. Aerosmith would have laughed at them, and I’m sure, probably did.

I had bands going all through those years, but nothing really all that good. I felt like I had the songs, but I never had the right combination of people. It's sometimes hard to remember in these days of the internet, Facebook, media overkill, etc. just how hard it was to find even three like-minded music people in those long-past, dull, grey days. Shows were few and far between. It was almost impossible to get gigs in West Side bars playing original music that derived from The MC5 and The Dictators more than from Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and The Allman Brothers, the Holy Triumvirate of low-life lunkhead rock. The ossification of rock & roll had begun. The idea that everything old was genuine & good and that everything new was scary & bad, all the precepts that engendered & defined classic rock radio, were taking hold.

Somewhere in all of that I got married. My wife never stood a chance against rock & roll. You will never hear me say one bad word about that girl. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was ultimately horrible to her. We started out great at 18 or 19 years old, the world was set out in front of us. It was ours to conquer. By our mid-20's all of her friends were settling down, getting married and having kids. She wanted a house and a baby. I wanted dark, loud bars and guitars. It couldn't end well and it didn't. Still, we're friendly to this day, 30 years later, so I guess it wasn't all bad. Time heals all wounds, or wounds all heels, one or the other, or perhaps both.

The nadir of my rock band existence was one night in December 1977 in the dressing room of a bar on Sullivant Avenue. The bar in earlier years had served as an airplane hangar when there was still an active West Side airport. My then-current band called, oddly enough, The Strokes, years before Julian Casablancas was even born, had played a typically dispirited first set to a scattering of equally dispirited drunks. I was sitting on a metal folding chair in the dressing room with my head in my hands, trying desperately to figure out WHY I was still playing music after all this time for so little return. That was the moment my lead singer, Cliff Phillips, chose to come in and proclaim, "Ya know, Ric, if you don't start writing me some songs where I can go out there and shake it for the ladies, we're gonna have a problem."

I raised my head out of my hands, looked up at him and said quietly, "Okay, Cliff, YOU'RE fired. Would anybody else like to join him?" The drummer tentatively raised his hand and I said, "Okay, you're also fired, but you have to finish the second set. Cliff, you get the fuck out." Cliff just looked down at me, read on my face that I was serious and slammed out of the dressing room. I sang the last set, badly, the bar owner paid us less than half the money we were due and as I drove home through the cold that night I said out loud to myself, "What about a girl lead singer? How much trouble could that be?" If Bruce Springsteen had called me up in 1984 when he hired Patti Scialfa to join the E Street Band I could have saved him a whole heaping helping of trouble. (See After The Second Set blog entry, January 2012.)

© 2012 Ricki C.

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