Bleecker Bob’s closed today, and like the end of CBGB’s, I find myself lamenting the end of a place I hadn’t been to in years. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t need or want the Village to be turned into more of an NYU-blanded mall than it already is, and I genuinely miss the days that I could wander the streets and find odd mom and pop shops who carried interesting things.
But I always had a conflicted relationship with Bleecker Bob’s.
This is obnoxious and obscene and don’t let your kids listen to it. Or if you’re a kid listening to it, just don’t tell your parents.
This was their first single. I heard it on WNYU, which is where I first heard of the Beastie Boys. I may or may not have seen them play as a hardcore band, back in the 80s I once tried to figure it out but never could. I do know that I took my life into my hands going out to the Capitol Theater in Passaic to see them, back when they had the go-go dancers in the cages, and scalped tickets in front of the Garden when they opened for Madonna on the Like A Virgin tour. (Really, I wanted to see Madonna, but the Beasties just made it more interesting.)
I cut this exact ad out of the New York Times one Sunday, and hung it on my bedroom wall. I couldn’t go into the city to see it, but went down to Ridgeway Cinemas one Saturday afternoon to see it, all on my own. When it was done — before it was done, even — I had gone out to the pay phone to call home and ask if I could stay to see it again. It wasn’t because I thought it was amazing (although I certainly did think that), it was because it was so enormous, so mind-blowing, so more-than-I-ever-thought to my 14 year old brain that I couldn’t possibly take it all in at once, so I stopped trying and told myself, “Don’t worry, it’s a movie, you can just see it again.”
When I was old enough to remember listening to and caring about music, we lived in the middle of nowhere, a town in Michigan so small that when I visited it for the first time in 25 years, my first question to my mother was, “Where did you shop? Where did you buy clothes?” But there was a local FM station and at night I could twist the gold dial of the radio my mother gave me and could pick up Chicago radio, WLS, and Detroit radio sometimes, in the summer when the sky was clear. I would ride my bike to the discount store that had a tiny music department, sheet music and some albums and cheap acoustic guitars. I would pick up the goldenrod-colored fliers that had the Billboard Hot 100 and mark the songs carefully, the ones I knew vs. the ones I hadn’t heard vs. the ones I wanted to own. I would make a purchase of one or two 45′s and reverently flip through the albums. The only albums I owned were K-tel compilations, it wasn’t until my 8th birthday until I had enough cash of my own to buy an actual LP (School’s Out and We’re An American Band, for the record. There were also some David Cassidy purchases, later).
There is not much to say, not much that needs to be said. The night was about playing the songs, making them as big and bold and bright as the fantasies everyone had the first time they heard them, songs that made them pick up a guitar or write a song, take a chance.
I was watching it long before I probably should have. I would strike these deals with our babysitters on Saturdays, if they let me stay up to watch Don Kirshner, I would make sure the rest of the kids (and there were four of us) would behave and go to bed with no problem. This worked on all of our sitters except Ann from next door, who – because she LIVED NEXT DOOR – felt a need to be more accountable than the other random girls who showed up at our house to watch us while my parents went out.
When I was in LA in July, I made a side trip to pay my respects to both Johnny and Dee Dee, who are buried in the same cemetery in Los Angeles. On the occasion of Johnny’s birthday, I thought I’d mention it here.
I called her Miami, because she (like me) had a thing for Steve Van Zandt, back when he was Miami Steve, back when this was a band that wore hats! She wore hats, too. We all had nicknames for each other, stupid, dumb, nicknames – I quite honestly cannot remember any of mine – because we wanted to be a gang, an exclusive club with nicknames and handshakes and secret rituals and inside jokes.