Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Rhythm Alley Redux - 15 - July 1986

“So shut your mouth - how can you say I go about things the wrong way?” - The Smiths, “How Soon Is Now?”

05 - Touchstone
06 - Touchstone
11 - The Connells with Light in August
12 - The Woods with Diminshing Returnz
17 - Mojo Nixon with the Naked Ramblers
18 - Dash Rip Rock with the Flat Duo-Jets
19 - The Pressure Boys with A Number of Things
24 - Rod Dash with the Graphic

On the 2nd of July, John Carpenter’s “Big Trouble in Little China” hit the theaters. We didn’t see it then but a few years later it became one of our favorite movies.  It was always a mess of a movie, but it made a hell of a lot more sense when it was finally pointed out that Kurt Russell’s character - Jack Burton - is not the hero of the piece.  He’s the bumbling sidekick - the comic relief that always has the best intentions but rushes headlong from one dumb move to another.  Sometimes those dumb moves work out, sometimes they don’t.  It ought to be clear by now that I’m the Jack Burton of this story and Jeannette is Wang Chi, the real hero.  I’d pushed us to jump on the opportunity when Judy decided to sell, over the objections of the person who’d studied and trained and prepared for this and knew it wasn’t the right time and it wasn’t the right situation, as much as we wanted it to be.  She’d done an incredible job of holding everything together to this point and now despite working her ass of to make it a success, we were going to have to get out.

I’ve somehow lost the June and July pages of my booking calendar and our bookkeeping was getting a little sloppy by this point, so I’m sure I’m missing a few dates.  What information I’ve got is from the closing sheets that are left but I’m sure a couple are missing.  

I’ve been trying to give everyone some insight into what was going on behind the scenes but I’m not going to talk much about the sale of the Alley later in the month.  It was sad and tragic and awful and heartbreaking and still makes us angry on a number of levels for a number of reasons to this day.  I’d rather focus on the last few shows we did, as much as I can piece the schedule together.  The only thing I’ll say is that Jeannette is quite justly proud of the fact that we didn’t go under, we didn’t walk away from it - we sold it as a viable business and a going concern.

While I’m missing some some dates from July, what I do have includes some pretty damn good shows.  The 4th of July was on a Friday so we didn’t try to book anyone that night.but our friends from Touchstone were back in town and did shows Saturday and Sunday.  They weren’t badly attended for a holiday weekend (around 100 folks each night) so it kept the weekend from being a washout - and we got to see our friends.

Photo of the cover of Touchstone’s “Jealousy” LP

The Connells show the next Friday with Light in August was one of their biggest yet and might have yielded our highest beer sales total for a show that wasn’t an all-day affair, although that might be a little misleading as their crowd was much more apt to hit the imports than the PBRs.

I’ve got the Woods playing with a band called Diminishing Returnz on Saturday.  I’m wondering if this is the night I remember when a bunch of college-age folks showed up for the opening band and then left soon after their set.  It felt a little bit like a changing of the guard, except that I don’t remember the opening band ever doing anything after that.

That might also have been the Saturday afternoon when I was putting up posters on the west end of Franklin Street and ran into Richard Fox, who owned a mobile recording studio and had recorded a couple of shows at the Alley.  He introduced me to the two guys he was going in with to buy Cat’s Cradle.  One was former UNC fullback Billy Johnson, who I’d met a couple of times before through mutual friends.  The other guy was a skinny dude I’d never met before, name of Frank.

If that was some sort of passing of the torch, I didn’t recognize it at the time.  In retrospect, if we handed a torch to Frank, he turned it into a bonfire.  With all of the club owner turnover in Chapel Hill since the early ‘70s, it’s remarkable that Frank has owned the Cradle for almost 30 years.  What’s even more remarkable is what he’s done with it and what he’s done for live music in the Triangle.  What might even be the most remarkable thing is that by all accounts, he’s done everything in the right way and been willing to help everyone else out along the way.  If I wore a hat, it would be off to him.

I realize that Mojo Nixon isn’t everybody’s cup of beer but I liked him and was pretty happy to book him.  Mojo counted as near-local - he was actually born in Chapel Hill but his family moved to Danville when he was a kid.  His second release came out sometime around when he played our place and was getting some attention (both good and bad) from MTV.  We put him with the Naked Ramblers and got a damn nice turnout, especially for a Thursday.

There was a guy that played sax some with Dex and Crow (Derrick, maybe?) that used to come in all the time and bug me to book Dash Rip Rock, a cow-punk-billy band from New Orleans.  They were doing a Southeast tour so we brought them in on Saturday to play with the Jets in a double-bill.  I love their cassette and wished I remembered more about the show but I may have to admit that I was beginning to fade a bit by that time.

Dash Rip Rocka.jpg
Dash Rip Rock cassette insert

While I might have started to fade, I’ll never forget the last Pressure Boys show we did, for a bunch of reasons.  We needed a good show in order to pay off our final bills for one thing, and A Number of Things and the P-Boys definitely delivered.  But in their tradition of starting shows late, they were still on-stage when last call came around.  I was at the door when an over-dressed middle-aged woman who looked completely out of place came in after last call and sat at the bar and tried to order a beer.  Lex and Kenneth both turned her down and she was still at the bar a couple of minutes later when a guy in a badly-fitting suit brushed past me and started behind the bar.  Lex started over... oh, hell, let me let Lex tell it.
"I'd had my usual six or seven cups of coffee that evening while tending bar, so I was wired so tightly I was hearing with my hair. 
You'd always told me not to let anyone behind the bar, ever, for any reason. And so, when this unassuming guy (and that's all I remember about him) let himself behind the bar, I did what you'd told me to do: I reached under the bar for the baseball bat and headed toward the guy.
He pulled out a badge, and I pulled up so short I'm surprised I didn't tear a hamstring. He identified himself as an ALE agent, and all I could think in that moment was that I was incredibly lucky not to have been shot. (I don't even know if the guy was carrying; I assume he was, but, to his credit, he never came close to going for the weapon.) At that point, I went in the back and found you, and I really don't remember much about what happened after that, other than that I was never so happy in my life to pour myself a Harp draft after the agent had left and we'd locked the doors for the night.
I have come closer to dying in my life, but never so close to dying stupidly. Fark wasn't around then, but "please do not let me die a Fark headline" seems a reasonable request. Fortunately, the ALE agent that evening was a reasonable guy."
I'm not sure I agree with Lex' "reasonable" comment but he's nicer than me. After the little attempt at entrapment failed, our next challenge was to clear the room of beer in about 20 minutes, while the Pressure Boys were still finishing up their encore.  Jeannette kept the ALE officer busy while Lex, Kenneth and I started going through the crowd, snatching near-full beers out of people’s hands and slam-dunking them into the garbage bins.  We made it, but only barely.  And Lex had a story that he’ll tell the rest of his life.

Rangledoon cover.jpg
Cover of the Pressure Boys “Rangledoon” EP - complete with slip cover advertising the completely free blank side of vinyl!

There’s a scene near the end of “24 Hour Party People” portraying the last night The Hacienda was open. Tony Wilson had made his way to the balcony after meeting and greeting his way through the crowd but hadn’t yet brought up the house lights and sent everyone out while exhorting them all to riot and pillage and steal anything that wasn’t nailed down.  He’s actually got a moment alone on the balcony overlooking the packed dance floor and for the first time his expression, seen through the strobing lights, is completely relaxed (or blank, depending on your viewpoint).  Jeannette and I recognized that look in each other when we first saw the movie - for me, I equate it with that last night with the Pressure Boys.  I knew it was all about to come crashing down but stepping from my post at the door into the main room and standing by the soundboard watching the heaving dancefloor, I also knew we’d been a part of something special - something that had meaning even if I wasn’t sure what that meaning was.

I have no recollection of the last weekend in July.  Hell, I don’t even know for sure we were open, other than I have a closing sheet for Rod Dash and the Graphic (odd pairing) for that Thursday night.  But we weren’t quite done yet.

“When some wild-eyed, eight-foot-tall maniac grabs your neck, taps the back of your favorite head up against the barroom wall, and he looks you crooked in the eye and he asks you if ya paid your dues, you just stare that big sucker right back in the eye, and you remember what ol' Jack Burton always says at a time like that: ‘Have ya paid your dues, Jack?’ ‘Yessir, the check is in the mail.’” - Kurt Russell, “Big Trouble in Little China”

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At 4:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

About the night that we got the visit from the new guy from Alcohol Control: There were three officers, that night. Two of them were doing their best to trick us into violating regulations and then the third - the guy in charge - was the one who stepped around the end of the bar. It looked, for all the world, like a robbery set-up. Even though the officer committed a serious breach of etiquette by stepping behind our bar (!) I was so relieved that I wasn't being robbed that I decided not to press the point. Instead, I chatted with him about how hot it was, offered him some ice water... and bought a little time for Tony and the rest of the crew to make a quick sweep through the room and grab up any leftover, warm beers! ~Jeannette

At 5:07 PM, Anonymous PC said...

And don't forget Thursday, July 10th: that was the night y'all opened up the Alley for our bachelor party. John Santa brought a bunch of gear and instruments in hopes of performing, but by the time he showed up, I was already too drunk to do much more than clamber onstage to perform a solo version of Robyn Hitchcock's "Ye Sleeping Nights of Jesus" before staggering off to Fats to drink mezcal and eat the worm.

And somehow Kel married me anyway.

At 5:52 PM, Blogger Tony Plutonium said...

Thanks, PC! Definitely didn't forget the night, just which night since I lost my July calendar. I'll admit that I don't remember the attempted John Santa Band reunion, but I was probably pretty schtonkered myself, not having to work for once. It was tough owning a club and rarely being able to drink in it!

At 8:24 PM, Anonymous kelly said...

I stood in front of the stage during "Sleeping Knights of Jesus" and yelled, "You're supposed to be HAPPY!!!" at PC.

At 11:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember coming back from Pete & Kel's wedding and arriving at the Alley to get ready for that night's show - which must have been The Woods. The night before, we had done The Connell's and dear Lex had spent the afternoon cleaning up the bar, while we had been down in Fayetteville. He'd done it by himself - on what had to have been the hottest day of the year! I seem to recall arriving to find him washing the fatigue mats, out in the alleyway. Thanks, Lex!!

At 11:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

(That's "Thanks" from Jeannette!!)


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