Hi, we're with one of the opening acts."
"Miller Miller Miller & Sloan"
Blank stare. Skinny guy for a backstage doorman. I think he had a British accent but my memory might be embellishing that. I know that he wore a blazer, which seemed vaguely "new wave" to me in 1981.
He checked his clipboard.
"Okay. Where's your van?"
"It's a Toyota Corolla & it's not here yet."
That's really the bulk of my recollections for that evening. I don't recall to much of the actual gig itself, but almost everything else that day is still pretty clear. Earlier that afternoon I was with our bass player Blake. (Sloan). We were at the Regency movie theatre on the upper west side watching Hitchcock's Vertigo I believe. I'd seen it before.
I was a senior in high school. Not socially inactive but I liked to be alone a lot. No real girlfriend at the time. The revival film houses of New York was where I spent the weekends usually. The Thalia & the Regency uptown. Film Forum wasn't around yet but downtown there was the 8th Street Playhouse screening everything from Mr Mike's Mondo Video to midnight showings of David Lynch's Earserhead. They also showed The Rocky Horror Picture show. But that was like Facebook. Super social. You had to dress up. I knew kids who went but it wasn't me.
The only real "social" activity I did that was a normal teen thing was playing with my band. My two brothers & Blake. We had just opened for Robin Lane & the Chartbusters at the Ritz on 11th Street the night before. A Friday I think. It was our biggest gig yet & went quite well. I told Blake I was going to see movies the next day. He decided to join me which was rare, but nice.
We knew about The Clash playing at Bonds of course. Every band in New York knew about it. And we all knew that a two night show had turned into a two week show due to some fire code violations. They'd oversold it. So the Clash decided to extend the nights rather than let the fans down. An honest move for such a big act.
My brothers & I weren't punk by any stretch. We were an R&B/funk band. Or that's what we claimed. I was more into rock, new wave & punk than the others. I'd gone through a Sex Pistols phase, but none of us cared for the Ramones or the Dead Boys. Even though we were regulars at CBGB's ourselves by now.
In fact, that's how we knew The Clash were extending their shows and having a different act open every night. The booker at CB's was a guy named Charlie. Right hand man to Hilly Krystal, the owner. Somehow Charlie was also in charge of securing the opening acts for Bonds while The Clash were playing there.
Other bands we knew already had gotten Clash opening gigs during the two week stretch. Like our friends the Nitcaps who we played with at CB's a lot. They also did blue eyed R&B but less poppy than us. More rock. With a horn section. Plus Jahn, the singer, had real downtown cred having played bass for Richard Hell.
We had given Charlie a demo tape for the Clash, just like everyone else, but we'd never heard back so we thought we just hadn't made the cut. To this day I don't know if there was a band cancelation or just a communication mishap, but we didn't know we were scheduled to play until the day of.
A flashlight was shinning down the aisle towards Blake & I. The movie was still playing. "Barney! Blake!" It was my little brother Mike, our drummer & show stopping prodigy standing there with the theatre manager. I thought maybe someone had died.
In the lobby Mike told Blake & I why he had to interrupt our movie date. We hopped on the 2 train to Times Square. My older brother Dan & our good friend Neil Ross were getting the equipment from Neil's dad's office in the Bronx where we rehearsed. (The Toyota. Neil was the only New Yorker we knew who was our age with a drivers license.)
The rest of the night is a blur. I remember setting up my amp in front of the pre-set Clash equipment. I want to say I remember the mic smelling awful but that may be just a CBGB's memory. (At CB's everything smelled awful.) I remember staring at the crowd, the biggest we'd played for even though Bonds was barely half full at that point.
I do remember the encore. Our usual routine. I put down my guitar and get on the drums while Mike comes out front, 14 years old but looking 12, to sing our version of Aretha Franklin's "Respect". It went over very well. It always did.
I remember meeting a Bush Tetra. (The other opening act). I also recall falling asleep up in a balcony, on a silver painted couch, waiting for The Clash to finally go on. I woke up to the sounds of Train In Vain. (Honestly the only Clash song I knew well or really liked.)
Dan met the Clash bass player Paul Simonon briefly. That memory is in my head too. On the backstage stairs at the end of the night. His Fender bass case in hand. His Elvis hairdo shining in the neon light. One cool looking mother fucker.
That's it. That's all I got. On Monday at school my friend Josh Milder, also a musician, made me feel good by saying something like, "The Ritz & The Clash back to back! Crazy rock n' roll weekend!"
We thought this was our first step. Turns out it was our peak. We knew how big the show was, but not how big the moment was. That whole time period is so nostalgia-ized now it almost feels embarrassing to say I was a small part of it. Aside from admitting I'm that old, I'd have trouble believing this yarn if I read it somewhere myself. But it's all true. We fucking did it. I was there.
We opened for The Clash.
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