Mountain At Charles Lane

by Thomas Beller

06/03/2001

14 Charles Ln, NY, NY 10014

Neighborhood: West Village

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.

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§ 55 Responses to “Mountain At Charles Lane”

  • Tom W says:

    Jim,
    Thanks for the additional info. What color was the cutlass? I don’t recall him having one. We had one as in his sister Maureen/my mom who passed away 9 years ago. God, Mike died so long ago…July ‘1989…the fourth I think or maybe the third. It was an awful time. It was such a shock as he and Cliff stayed away during most of his illness especially the last 18months or so. I was pretty devastated, so was my Mom since he never told us of what he was going thru. It was like Tommy, Uncle Mike is sick and in the hospital. And then 2 days later he was gone. At least I saw him a few times before he passed in that short time but he was really ill and quite a shock even for an almost 30yo man with a 3yo daughter and a marriage from hell. It’s times around the holidays and Woodstock and Independence Day that are really hard to deal with. He was my hero in so may ways and I was always told how much I was like him, weight issues aside.

    I realize Cliff fell off the grid, which is too bad because I would really like to speak with him. I know there were issues after Mike died and his dying declaration/will which I know some of what t happened but it all doesn’t make sense. I was too busy with my own issues to deal with my mother’s issues but frankly it all doesn’t add up. I know there are feelings that my mother was out to screw Cliff and frankly I don’t see that as her desire or intent. Among the three siblings there were certainly rivalries I guess I would call it, so I think there was much more at play than just insurance or whatever…But my Mom always loved and helped my uncle and always made a legal home for him. Always stood up for Michael especially in regard with my Grandfather. Considering my mother always accepted Michael as the man he was, so this acrimony that my mother was out to get Cliff or didn’t want the studio to continue was not her issue. Hell my mother practically raise him since she was 12 older. I certainly did not want to see the studio go, my uncle’s legacy gone… it was a second death to me. I still remember how everything was set up, the weekend stay overs, as I said he was a hero to me. The music, the electronics, the creativity, all things that was in my soul too. All the memories, all the work Mike and others with Cliff and Gee among more, all gone when the studio was really starting as he envisioned it after many years of piecing it all together. Nobody in Norwood wanted the studio to go, that is a fact.

    Anyway, I do hope one day I will be able to speak to Cliff at some point because he was so much a part of our family. It is terrible how Michael’s death turned into such a bigger tragedy.

    Sorry for my loose-lipped sentimentality. It’s the holidays with too much time to think.

    P.s. Remember the turbo mustang fastback? Perhaps that is the car of which u speak? We borrowed that car from Mike in the late 60s or 70 to take a family trip to Niagara falls. All planned out to leave like on a Friday night but Tommy was asked to go to the car for something and I. Tossed the keys on top of the dash which was have been no problem in our normal car but in the mustang the keys slipped all the way down behind the steering wheel, off the windshield and down into the heater panel/firewall… Omg my poor Dad was fishing those keys out until like 2am. Boy was that a wonderful way to start a trip. Took a long time to live that down.

    Thanks….

  • jim cunningham says:

    The car in question was 62 Olds cutlass f85 I remember it well as it was the first i’d seen. There was a turbo Corvair of the same era that ran at the drag strip and was a big rival of our (River View Gulf Drag Team) 1961 dodge Lancer. We were not in the same class as Mike and Fred’s Studebaker. After I split with my first wife. I moved with wife #2 to California ,and my first wife kept in touch with Cliff and John.I thought she said Cliff passed , but I’ll ask her again. By the way that car was maroon and silver. Before that he had a light blue mustang. You also commented about the Orange Thing, that was Bill Gottliebs . I moved to California in 1986 and lost all contact after that. One of the things no one has mentioned is the Thanksgiving and/or Christmas parties Cliff and Mike used to have for their CATS. We attended several of them and they were bizzare to say the least but entertainiing. I have many stories of them and I could probably write a book. That is M&C not the cats.

  • Thomas Wendelken says:

    Sorry to hear about Cliff if that is correct.

    Ah, that is a different Cutlass. And yes the CATS…While we never partook of the Christmas and Thanksgiving festivities because M&C normally were with us before or after the cats party.

    I don’t remember if you were at grandpa’s 80th birthday party but Brian I think mentioned about the wine there. I believe the 1962 Mouton/Lafite Rothschild was a gift from John. Would you remember that? I believe Mike said John found it without knowing he had it.

    Thanks.

  • Glen Bringslid says:

    Hello, all youse! 😉
    I hope all in our little apparently connected community are off to a good start for 2017. Blessings to all… My question is if anyone knows or has heard from Cliff’s BROTHER. His name is vaguely remembered as “Robert”. I used to party with him and he was hardcore. This contributes to why I have a problem remembering his name! LOL! He also lived in the West Village. Cliff kind of shied away from hanging out with him much because Cliff was trying to be “on the wagon” and involved with AA… Anyway, it’s just a longshot…

  • Thomas Wendelken says:

    Sorry to say, but Cliff’s brother passed away some long time ago. I don’t recall his brother’s name now either but I think Robert is incorrect.

    I think the year of the aforementioned wine was 1961. Whatever the year, it was the greatest wine I have ever tasted and have been searching for her again ever since.

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