Monday, November 2, 2015

The Damned Live 1978

Hurrah was a walk-up nightclub on 32 West 62nd Street. The second-floor had been a disco in its previous reincarnation. Studio 54 put it out of business. The new owners brought downtown uptown by booking having Jim Fouratt book punk bands.

Between sets video monitors played music and strobed a kaleidoscope of images. My friends and I worked the punk disco throughout its heyday as barmen, DJs, bookers, management, security, cashiers, and me employed as the doorman.

Our crowd were cute high school girls, long-legged models, generous drug dealers, wild movie stars, aspiring musicians, though teenagers from the outer boroughs, off-duty cops, druggy diplomats, doctors, and ne'er-do-well artists as well as a diverse collection of undesirables.

$20 bought entry for anyone other than a rat pack of macho boys. They were trouble.

The live music was the main attraction to Hurrah. The bookers loaded the stage with New York bands such as Klaus Nomi, ESG, Polyrock, and Ballistic Kisses to opened for headliners like the B-52s, Gang of Four, the Dead Boys, and the Ramones.

In June of 1979 The Damned from the UK hit Hurrah for a one-night stand with the Dead Boys. I was familiar with the band from their newly-released LP MACHINEGUN ETIQUETTE. The Jefferson Airplane’s WHITE RABBIT was a cover from the album. I had the single. RABID was on the B-side.

Aside from letting in underage girls from Fieldston Academy and cuffing twenties for extra wages, one of my tasks as doorman was to lead the top billing bands from the dressing room in the rear corridor through the crowd onto the low stage.

A distance of 150 feet through a crowd crammed past capacity, since a cashier and I had racketed the door and resold tickets to SRO shows.

The night of The Damned’s concert I probably had packed another hundred fans into the club. The Dead Boys had torn up the 700+ boys and girls. They wanted more and the more that they were going to get was The Damned. Hundreds chanted for the band. Their boots stomped hard on the wooden floor. The booker signaled me that it was time to get the band onstage. I went to the dressing room. The band was sitting on its asses, surrounded by the usual punk groupies. Cheetah Chrome of the Dead Boys sulked in the corner. The lead guitarist was not used to being ignored by his faithful sluts.

“What’s the problem?” It was obvious that the Damned were going anywhere.

“No Vodka. Our contact stipulated four bottles of Vodka. We ain’t got none.” The lead guitar was wearing a gorilla suit. Pink top. Yellow bottom. It was a warm June night and sweat rivuleted down his face. Hot pants and a tube tops would have been a better choice.

“No vodka. No show.” The black-haired singer announced with folded arms. His skin was covered by a film of white. He so wanted to look like a vampire.

“Gimme a minute.” I reckoned that the owners had refused the vodka fearing the band would hit the stage drunk, but if they wanted vodka, I was going to get them some. Jhoury was the head bartender. Long thin and gay, he had a thing for the lead singer. I told him the problem and his hands elegantly seized four bottles of bar-well quality.

Old Cossack.

“Lead the way.” The bottles, glasses, and mixers appeared on a tray, as if Jhoury had been waiting for this call all evening. He had a thing for straight boys with English accents and reveled in his glory, when the band sprang to their feet at the sight of the vodka.

“Good man.” The albino lead singer grabbed the bottles and distributed to his fellow band members. He waved away the glasses and mixers. “We’ll be drinking it neat.”

The Damned screwed off the tops and lifted the open bottles to pour the vodka down their gullets like baby birds swallowing their mother’s spew. Some of it made it down their throats. The rest spilled onto their clothes and floor. Jhoury was in wide-eyed awe. He like his drink too. The bottles were half-empty within a minute. Cheetah Chrome drank most of one. The drummer Rat Scabies smirked at him and said, “It’s showtime. Get us on the stage and keep any lit cigarettes away from us. We’re combustible.”

“Jhoury, you’re coming with me.” I eyed his tray. Jhoury smiled with thanks. He never got out from behind the bar and now he was leading rough boys through a thick crowd. He didn’t have to be told twice and we wedged out way through the phalanx of fans. The band picked up their instruments and opened the set with NEW ROSE.

It was a great show.

They performed WHITE RABBIT as an encore.

By 3am Hurrah was empty and the band ready to hit the road on their bus.

The Dead Boys with them. They were a double bill for the tour.

Destination Cleveland.

No one could find Cheetah Chrome and the bus pulled out without him. It wasn’t until Buffalo that someone opened the storage area under the bus and found Cheetah passed out on the speakers. He didn’t wake up until Cleveland.

The lead guitarist knew the smell of his hometown.

I never saw the Damned again, but Jhoury and I spoke often about their glugging the vodka. They were our heroes, then again so were so many of the bands that appeared at Hurrah.

It was the best of times.

ps Cheetah Chrome called me a phony for writing him into the story, but I recall him under the bus.

Plus this is semi-fiction and I love the Dead Boys.

Check out NEW ROSE by the Damned

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