In the glory days of Steinway Street, there was an establishment called Record Spectacular. A combination record store/head shop, it was located between 30th and 31st Avenues, on the west side of the street…and was a meeting place of sorts for music aficionados, potheads, and other 1970s misfits.
I still remember walking wide-eyed into Record Spectacular as a pre-teen with my mother. She had promised to buy me an album (remember those?) and I wisely chose the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers. Ever tolerant, my Mom ignored the Andy Warhol zipper fly album cover but she did take a good long look around at the bongs, Bambu rolling paper, and black lights…as Emerson, Lake and Palmer blared over the sound system. She was not pleased.
Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends…
Rock and roll was a significant feature of my youthful development and spurred me to become a rather precocious concert-goer…having seen bands like Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Queen, the Allman Brothers, the Kinks, the Beach Boys, and Black Sabbath all before I turned 16. I even snuck into the Garden to see the Stones in 1975. They played “Sympathy for the Devil” for the first time since Altamont and Clapton joined them to jam.
Back then, Central Park was the regular site for the Shaefer Music Festival. For a mere buck-fifty, a juvenile rocker like me could behold Bruce Springsteen or Peter Frampton in their formative pre-fame years. In August 1974, New York City did something unimaginable for those of us mired in the Guiliani/Bloomberg/Disney era. The city offered a free concert in Central Park featuring two of the supreme pothead bands of that era: Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airman and The New Riders of the Purple Sage. The drink and drugs were plentiful…and everyone shared. Longhaired girls went topless and a small cloud of cannabis vapor wafted over the proceedings like a soothing fog. My adolescent buddies and I felt like we were knock-knock-knockin’ on heaven’s door. One of my strongest non-sex-drugs-and-rock-n-roll memories of that hazy afternoon involves protracted and raucous booing when WNEW-FM personality Allison “The Night Bird” Steele announced that Nelson Rockefeller had been named vice president. I didn’t completely comprehend then…I do now.
As I got older and rock concerts grew more expensive and less personal, I became a tad choosier with my music money. It wasn’t always easy deciding where and when to indulge. The Who at Shea Stadium: that was a mistake. U2 at the Meadowslands: worth the money and commute. They closed with a “40” sing-a-long that continued out into the parking lot and through the covered bridges you traversed to find your car. Another good decision was driving up with James “Q” Parravano to see Van Halen at New Haven. Like good little New Yorkers, we bought the cheapest available seats and proceeded to breeze past the Connecticut security…all the way down to the damn stage. I was a mere three feet from Eddie as he banged out the intro to “Mean Street” wearing that goofy grin of his.
All this rock and roll roaming eventually led me to make my own music. I sang and wrote lyrics for a band that included two members of Astoria royalty: Peter and Paul Vallone. Thanks to their supportive Mom, we practiced in the Vallone basement and cut a 4-track demo, but we never progressed beyond that. We never even named the band yet we did get invited to play a dance…but the deal fizzled. Pete and I differed over some of my lyrics. For obvious reasons, he didn’t like lines such as: “Our fathers show us paths that have proven/but into the past is where they are moving.” But I’m still convinced that at least one of our tunes, “Somewhere in Astoria,” was really something special. Go ahead and ask Pete, Jr. He’ll tell you.
Somewhere in Astoria…it can be found.
It was my ceaseless concert-going that led me to a new music-related avenue: band management. Guitarist John Carpente and I went to see White Lion at L’Amour’s in Brooklyn. The show rocked and we were mightily impressed, but on the way home, John casually mentioned he knew a guitarist who was better than Vito Bratta. I quickly mentioned a singer who could blow Mike Tramp off the stage. In short order, we hooked up Howie (with a voice to rival Freddie Mercury’s) and Anthony (Astoria’s guitar virtuoso)…and Cloak and Dagger was born. No record deals were signed, no giant concerts were played…but, as their manager, I experienced some rock and roll episodes I’d never trade. In the end, for me, watching Cloak and Dagger rock a jam-packed CBGB’s was Woodstock.
My ever-tolerant Mom grew to despise the sound of Mick Jagger’s voice but she did kinda like Cloak and Dagger…enough to differentiate between their version of “I’m the One” and Van Halen’s original. She once dragged my Dad and older sister to one of their gigs in Woodside. When I caught a glimpse of her enduring the ear-drum-threatening metal, I recalled what happened that afternoon after she bought me Sticky Fingers. We had lunch in a sit-down deli (the likes of which has been missing from Steinway St. for 20 years). As we dined, I couldn’t stop taking out my new album to admire it. Finally, Mom cracked.
“I wish you wouldn’t buy Rolling Stones’ albums,” she told me sternly. “All the money goes to drugs, you know.”
Mickey Z. is the author of the forthcoming novel, CPR for Dummies (Raw Dog Screaming Press), and can be found on the Web at http://www.mickeyz.net.