Charles Lane is a narrow cobblestoned alley that connects Washington Street and the West Side Highway. There is nothing particularly remarkable about it, except it feel like one of those narrow crevices in the city which time has forgotten, even though it is tucked into a peculiarly modern housing development.
A rehearsal studio called Charles Lane studios was once in business there. I went there to rehearse with my first band. We weren’t even a band. I was thirteen years old, the other guys were a year older. I recall shivering on the corner of Washington Street and Charles Lane in the middle of winter, waiting for the other band members to show up. Once we got the hang of it, we could waltz in on our own, one at a time, but in the beginning it seemed to important to make an entrance as a group.
It was a strange place. The guy who ran was a small, skinny pale skinned man who always seemed to be recovering gamely from a terrible hangover. He lived there so the sense of having roused him from sleep was very strong. He lead us through the waiting room/living room area back in the studio, and then left us there. We set up, and commenced to make a racket, which I have no doubt he slept through, because he always seemed equally dazed and just awoken when we left a few hours later.
The feeling of epic debaucheries haunted all the rooms.
What I most remember about the place was the fact that a band called Mountain had once rehearsed there. Large framed posters of the band were on the walls. And the amplifiers we plugged into had once belonged to the band themselves.
Mountain’s front man was Leslie West, who is (or was) a very large man, with unruly hair. I remember staring with an odd kind of reverence at the pictures of him and the band on huge concert stages, rocking out. It made me feel special to be rehearsing in a place once occupied by such rock Gods. I had only heard one song of theirs, “Mississippi Queen,” but that was enough. One of the things about that song is the way it suggests massive volume, an avalanche of rock.
Now when I walk by Charles Lane it seems like a lost, quiet place, and I wonder vaguely about what parties and debaucheries took place at Charles Lane Studios those nights before our arrival.
I wrote the above in 2001, give or take, which is when I took the photograph. it looked then more or less as it looked two decades earlier, and I imagine as it had looked for most of the 20th century. But in the years since there has been a building boom of sleek glass high rises along the West Side Highway. Charles Lane has one at the end but, more striking, there is one in the middle, a bulging geometric cube intruding into the alley and rising upwards. Very strange. Yet the cobblestone street is still there, still rutted like something from the 19th Century. It still has the quality of hushed, secret space in the city.