A few years back, my friends Echorich and Jonny the Friendly Lawyer collaborated on a short series of posts celebrating life and growing up in New York City. I’ve kept the link to all three parts over on the right-hand side of the blog (if on a laptop) or underneath (if you’re scrolling down on some other device) under the heading of Everyone’s Your Friend In New York.
Almost four years after the third installment, the dynamic duo have returned with part 4, which I’ve split into two sections over today and tomorrow. Jonny sets the scene rather well today while Echorich’s tale, if my reaction to reading it is anything to go by, should generate a great deal of amusement and awe in equal measures.
My thanks, again to the two of them for sharing such amazing and precious memories. It’s another reminder that the guest contributions, whether through postings or comments, are really what makes this little corner of t’internet seem that bit more special.
Over now to Jonny………………….
The Limelight was a huge, 19th century Gothic deconsecrated church on the corner of 20th Street and 6th Avenue. It opened as a nightclub around 1982. A fair number of famous bands played there but the place was really more known as a dance club. Actually, in its day it was THE dance club in NYC—ground zero for 80’s scenesters and a farm league for star DJ’s. This 2-part episode of Everyone’s Your Friend in New York City focuses on your humble authors’ personal experiences with this hallowed venue which, by the way, is still standing on the same Chelsea corner in all its grim-faced stone glory. You can read all about the venerable edifice (and the crimes and films and legends that grew out of it) here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Limelight#New_York_City_location
I passed by the Limelight all the time because I lived nearby on 23rd St. It was a massive, byzantine structure that was always jam-packed, with a line around the block to get in. I went there a few times, as did everyone in the city in the 80’s, but not too often. I wasn’t what you’d call a club boy or much of a dancer back in the day. But when the chance arose for my band, Chronic Citizens, to play there you can bet we jumped at it.
It was impossible to get gigs in the city (it still is). There are only so many venues and there are 10,000 bands trying to get a look in. There was no way to get your name out apart from wheat-pasting flyers to walls and phone poles in the dead of night. No local radio station would play your music, even if you could afford to record and press any. You could hang around CB’s and bug Hilly until he put you on the bill, but only because he had a kind heart. The major indie venues—The Ritz, Peppermint Lounge, Knitting Factory, Danceteria—were booked solid with famous international acts. So, it was a very big deal to get the nod to play the Limelight, even if it wasn’t the main stage.
Unlike other dives the Citizens played, the Limelight was a proper venue with a major-league green room. The five of us and assorted girlfriends and comrades piled in, where we met our opening act, a group of scrawny kids from New Jersey called, if I remember correctly, the Orphans. They were a four-piece but their bassist hadn’t arrived yet. We were all shocked when the door opened and bus trays were delivered filled with beer on ice! Unknown bands were treated like shit as a matter of policy in the city, and here we were having beer delivered to our dressing room! Not only that but a quart of milk and a pot of coffee for the road crew we didn’t have. We descended on the beer like locusts and, in short order, an impromptu jam began. I can’t recall what else we did but I distinctly remember one song in particular: We plugged in our amps and played a 20-minute version of Sweet Jane, with about 12-15 of us slamming in on the chorus.
mp3: The Velvet Underground – Sweet Jane
We sort of got carried away with our rock star fantasy because someone from the venue politely entered and advised that we were supposed to be performing in the club, not getting plastered in the green room. This proved to be a bit of a problem for the Orphans, whose bass player was still on the wrong side of the Hudson. So we decided to open for ourselves. We broke down the drum kit and amps and set them back up in one of the antechambers or side chapels or whatever you call the ancillary rooms in churches adjacent to the main cathedral. There was always a good crowd in the Limelight and it was just fun playing a set with the knowledge that, when it was over, we could say we’d done it.
I don’t remember too many of the details of the show as we were decently uninhibited by the largesse of the management. I was also distracted by the presence in the audience of the sister of an old school friend. We’d recently met up at a party and she’d hinted it might be fun to get together without her brother around, an idea I was very much in favor of. The performance was a bit of a blur, if I’m honest, me pretending to be a rock star who played famous venues where the management showered us with booze and young ladies turned up so we could leave together. That wasn’t true, but it was true for a night anyway. I know we would have played our theme song.
mp3: Chronic Citizens – Chronic Citizens
We finished up and piled back into the green room to see if the Orphans had left any of the complimentary libations. They were looking pretty forlorn as their bassist still hadn’t shown up. The singer approached me and asked if I’d sit in for their missing mate. I declined—I didn’t know their songs and had a rendezvous I was eager to keep. The rest of them pleaded with me; they were going to miss their chance to play the Limelight!
So I agreed to play the only song from their set I knew: ‘You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory’ by Johnny Thunders. As they were setting up the singer sheepishly admitted that he didn’t actually know the words. Right. I found a pen and looked for something to write on, the minutes passing uncomfortably. The only thing I could find was the carton of milk sent by the Limelight angels, so that’s what I used. And so it came to pass that I played the Thunders classic at the Limelight, trying not to laugh and screw up the bass part while the singer squinted at my scrawled lyrics on the side of a milk carton he was holding aloft in the dim light of the stage.
mp3: Johnny Thunders – You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory
That was more than enough for me. I packed up my gear and headed toward home three blocks west, still jazzed by the whole experience. I only played a few more shows with the Citizens before the band split and I put my fledgling music career on hold for thirty years. But I could always say I played the Limelight! The image of the hapless Orphans’ frontman holding a mic in one hand and the milk carton in the other still makes me smile. And it was unforgettable being treated like rock royalty.
It would be decades, and only through the good offices of our host JC, before I learned that the beer trays had been sent to the Limelight green room by…Echorich.