Thursday, March 21, 2024

Where Have All the Old Punks Gone?

Last night, my friend Lisa had an extra ticket to see Chris Spedding at Bowery Electric. I’m not particularly a fan, but I feel like when something like this falls into your lap, you have to say yes unless you have a good reason not to. (And the fact that I’d normally be watching TV on a Wednesday night was not a good reason not to.)

Chris Spedding isn’t exactly famous, but he’s a well-respected “side man,” a musician’s musician who played with Roxy Music at their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Previously, I’d only seen Spedding play with Robert Gordon (another show that Lisa invited me to). And before that, my only memory of him was of seeing his face on an album cover 40 years ago, when he looked quite stunning.

But for me the real show was the audience.

Before I even walked in the door, I spotted an old woman entering the club wearing a CBGB T-shirt. If ever someone could say, “I have T-shirts older than you,” it was her.

Then I entered and the real show began. (I wish I’d taken pictures, but I don’t think that would’ve been cool, even though I saw other people taking pictures.)

Where do I begin?

I’ve never seen so much black, leather and leopard print in one place. But something was amiss. At first, it was like entering a time warp. It was like being 19 again and entering the Mudd Club or Berlin.

Except everyone was 40 years older!

My friend Lisa and I seemed to be the youngest people there. (OK, not everyone was old. The bartender, who was absolutely adorable, seemed to be about 19 and much too healthy to be working there.)

Someone actually showed up with a cane! I was half-expecting someone to show up with a walker!

I saw one guy who looked like Alan Vega, the lead singer of Suicide. (Yes, that was the name of an actual punk band. It was the ’80s, what can I say?) Except that Alan Vega is dead.

Another guy in a leather top hat could have been the winner of the Alice Cooper Look-alike Contest.

There were two aging punk women in frizzy hair and black eyeliner screeching at each other. One of them had brought an album with her. (You know, those round vinyl things we used to play music on?)

I just had three questions: 1. Where did all these people come from? 2. What did they all do for a living? and 3. How can they afford to live here?

You used to see people like this in the East Village all the time. But that was 40 years ago. Were these the same people 40 years later? Even if they were rent-stabilized (like me), how had they survived? Did they now live in the far reaches of the Bronx or Staten Island and take the subway in to see Chris Spedding?

I thought of East Village fixtures like John Spacely (a.k.a. “Gringo”), whose eyepatched likeness used to hover above St. Mark’s Place. Or Jimmy Webb, the eternally youthful sales clerk at Trash & Vaudeville.

I had to remind myself that the Sex Pistols first appeared on the scene in 1977. That was 47 years ago! So even if these people were 16 back then, they’d be 63 now.

That’s almost (gasp) my age!

I wasn’t sure whether I should be inspired or depressed. Was it hopeful that Chris Spedding was 79 and still rocking out or pathetic?

Was this my future? (Or, even worse, my present?)

After the show, I conducted a little mini-tour of my old haunts for Lisa. “This is where CBGB used to be. I’ve actually played there.” (It’s now a John Varvatos boutique.) “This is where The Great Gildersleeves used to be.” (It was torn down and replaced by an NYU dorm.) “This is where I ‘met’ (in the biblical sense) the Ramones’ art director, Arturo Vega, and where the Ramones used to crash.” (There’s probably some rich stockbroker living there now.)

I eventually made it home on time to catch the second rerun of Seinfeld. After all, some of us old punks actually have to work for a living.