Visceral & CerebralMonday, February 01, 2010
Les Wiseman, Rear Window, The Vancouver Sun, April 20, 2000
This pic was shot early morn, late 1981 on the stairway that led from the stage to the dressing rooms in the legendary Gary Taylor’s Rock Room on Wasserman’s Beat (Hornby between Georgia and Dunsmuir). It was the last night for that venue. Taylor’s was always a great place, featuring an eclectic variety of rock bands from mainstream, to blues to punk. In the main room, the rock crowd could sit in upholstered banquettes and swill with an approximation of nightclub sophistication. Downstairs, at various times, there were strippers and karaoke. Upstairs, in the dressing rooms there was rock’n’roll abandon.
In 1981, Taylor’s had become a mini Manhattan where any given week you could catch Johnny Thunders and the Cosa Nostra, Jane County and the Electric Chairs or the Lenny Kaye Connection.
Kaye had risen to fame first by being one of the gods of rock criticism with Rolling Stone, Creem and Rock Scene, and compiling the essential 1960s garage band album, Nuggets. Thereafter he became friends with punk visionary Patti Smith, while he was working at a record store called Village Oldies in New York. Smith persuaded him to dance in the aisles to The Bristol Stomp by the Dovelles.
By 1971 he was playing guitar while Smith recited her poetry to 150 people at Saint Mark’s Church. This was the Patti Smith Group birthed. The resultant single, Hey Joe/Piss Factory, produced by Kaye, was the seminal punk recording that led to Horses, the 1975 Smith LP that ushered in the age of punk rock as much as did the rise of The Damned, Ramones, Television and The Sex Pistols. The Smith Group released four albums and had a hit with Bruce Springsteen’s Because the Night. Then Patti Smith retired to married life with husband Fred “Sonic” Smith, Formerly of MC5.
With her husband’s death in 1994, Smith worked through her grief with new albums always featuring the stalwart Kay on lead guitar The Patti Smith Group appears at the Commodore Ballroom on Saturday [April 22, 2000].
After the original demise of the group, Kaye formed The Connection and released an album. I Got a Right was picked up by the cognoscenti, but was not commercially boffo. After his Vancouver appearance with The Connection I wrote and article on Kay for my Vancouver Magazine In One Ear column. He had left me his address, so I sent the piece off to him and a couple of weeks later received a letter thanking me for writing about him and if I was ever in NYC to look him up. In March of 1983, I called Country Rhythms magazine (Kaye was a contributing editor) from a hotel off Times Square and told them that I was looking for Kaye. Within a half-hour, Kaye called and invited photographer Alex Waterhouse-Hayward and me to the Danceteria for a poetry reading by Jim Carroll that night.
It can hardly be overestimated how cool it was to walk up to the door of the hippest club in Manhattan and tell the doorman, “We’re on Lenny Kaye’s guest list.” Inside we spotted Kaye’s gaunt frame. We introduced ourselves and he introduced us to the two guys he was talking with: Jim Carroll, below left, the author of The Basketball Diaries and leader of The Jim Carroll Band, and David Johansen former lead singer of The New York Dolls, later to become Buster Poindexter. It was rock fan-writer paradise.
Now Smith and Kaye are back, making music both visceral and cerebral with the new album, Gung Ho. Kaye in 1981 said that the Smith Group was a purely ‘70’s phenomenon.
“It’s like we did it,” he explained. “And I think Patti, above all people, realizes that once you did it, why bother doing it again? We set out to be a totally idealistic art project, and we maintained it throughout our whole life. And to me, Patti calling a halt to it only vindicates her art.”
Kaye’s statement still stands valid. But time and loss change everything.
Les Wiseman, 2000
On Sunday I talked with Les Wiseman and former CBC and Sony Records honcho rep Dave Chesney to see what I could possibly tell my students at VanArts on Monday in a class called Editorial Rock Band Photography. I lay on the floor a long stream of 11x14 prints of many of the rock performers I photographed for Les Wisman's Vancouver Magazine column In One Ear. Few if any of the pictures registered any kind of recognition in my class. Few if any were interested in knowing who the people were. I pointed out the NY Times Literary Magazine review of Patti Smith's autobiographical account of her life with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, Just Kids. Only a couple in class knew who either Patti Smith is or Robert Mapplethorpe was. I would have been wasting my time to recommend the wonders of listening to a recording of Johnny Thunders playing Louie Louie to no avail. I felt a bit sad and disconnected. And then I thought and realized that it was in 1979 that I first experienced Vancouver's Art Bergmann his dazzling and passionate guitar at the Smiling Budhha. I was 37 years old. My students have plenty of time to discover the joy of listening to a fast and furious electric guitar by that master of the whammy bar, Lenny Kaye.
And I remember the words of Les Wiseman, "Our magazine was a give away yet it was a fine magazine. To this day people tell me how they appreciated In One Ear." Or as Lenny Kaye said in Wiseman's piece above, "It's like we did it." I think that should be enough for both of us.