Friday, February 8, 2019

Nurse the Hate: The Odd Thing About Gig Memories

I was surprised to discover a guy I work with used to be a touring musician.  I had no idea.  We both pull a chameleon at work and blend into the bland landscape.  He's older than me, so I didn't know what he meant by him saying "he used to play in bands".  Generally, when someone tells me they play(ed) in a band, it can turn out they had instruments briefly set up in their basement or played at a wedding once.  There is a stark difference in life experience between playing shitty punk rock bars to strangers that initially hate you and taking a shot at “Disco Inferno” at your cousin Trudy’s wedding while your family coos and takes video. 

When I found out he had played with Alex Bevan, someone I knew that played “real” shows slightly before I crept into the scene, I suspected he was in the tribe.  When he told me of his doomed opening slot for The Clash in 1979, he had much respect.  Back then Ohio kids thought you had to spit on the performer to be as “punk” as the reports they had seen about this new dangerous music from New York and London.  What a drag to have punk poseurs from Chagrin Falls spit on you as you kill time as an obstacle before the big prize of The Clash.  Poor Bo Diddley played the second slot with union musicians that appeared to have bought “cool” clothes from JC Penney when they learned they had the gig.  I would guess that a union bass player used to playing Playhouse Square mixers and wedding receptions would have been uncomfortable being spat on prior to a band that was in combat boots waiting to play “I’m So Bored With The USA”.

We quickly moved onto the conversation all touring musicians have at one point or another.  “What’s the worst men’s room of any club you ever played?”  I was surprised by his answer of a now forgotten club that was next door to the old Peabody’s Café in Cleveland Hts.  The bathrooms were downstairs behind the area where the band played.  Patrons had to essentially walk through the band to get to the staircase.  The club had abandoned all pretense of cleaning the facilities and at this point also stopped replacing lightbulbs.  The stairs down were like something from a nightmare in Game of Thrones.  As a result, patrons began to creep as far down stairs as they dared in the increasing darkness until just pissing in the general direction of where they believed a toilet might be located.  This led to the unmistakable scent of human waste settling in around the area of the band as it wafted upstairs.  This indeed sounded grim, but that's not the worst.

I did not have to think long for my answer.  I thought of the terrifying CBGB’s men’s room, but like most pilgrims to that club, I missed the “glory days” of when Hilly’s dog used to shit everywhere.  To me, that men’s room was about as bad as when the Euclid Tavern would have plumbing issues.  Bad, certainly, but not the worst.  My mind drifted briefly to a club called Ronnie Ps in Pittsburgh where we played one cursed show with the Frampton Brothers.  Ronnie Ps was a club that was originally a men’s room and they decided to add on.  “Hey, we have a filthy toilet.  Let’s add on a club!”.  It was there Leo got bitten by a small flying gnat that gave him a stubborn raised skin infection that took months to heal.  As far as I know, he still has some sort of early strain of the Zika virus from that.

Ultimately though, the choice was easy.  The worst men’s room I know was Bernie’s Bagels, aka The Distillery in Columbus.  In the mid 80s as a college student, I used to stop in there for imported beers and bagel sandwiches.  It was a little gross, but as a college student, it was no dirtier than my rental house with my degenerate roommates.  By the time Bernies had solidified itself as the “small shitty punk rock room” of Ohio State, the staff had completely given up on maintaining a basic human level of function in that men’s room.  No doubt it was routinely destroyed by angry punk rock boys and drunk college students.  They didn’t install the indestructible prison toilets Kathy did at The Grog Shop.  They just gave up.

The last time I played Bernies was probably in the late 90s.  The Cowslingers played Bernies a bunch of times, and we almost always were terrible.  We just used to get too fucking drunk.  It would always be three bands with us playing last, which gave us too much time with the import beer cooler.  I think the general filth of the room left no other choice than “shitface drunk” to maintain the composure necessary to spend 5-6 hours in the space.   That last time we played there, I remember going to the men’s room to see no one had even attempted to clean the bathroom.  The toilet had tape across it meant to deter anyone from using it.  Unfortunately, this did not stop the previous patrons who had somehow the stomach to shit in it over and over, so much so that a small fecal mountain crested the top of the bowl.  The one working urinal had a broken beer glass in it where someone had thoughtfully vomited over the general area.  The other urinal had a hole punched in the bottom of it.  A film of mysterious liquid coated the floor of the area.  I backed out like I had chanced into an encounter with a mountain lion.  I went to the women’s, which was better, but not remarkably so.  It should also be noted I did not order a bagel or any other food item.

It's odd that in all these years of playing music I never talk about the great nights like those Link Wray gigs, the first time selling out the Grog, nights at the Star Bar in Atlanta, whatever…  Whenever I meet other people that have spent time in the van, we never talk about brief moments of small victories.  The memorable nights are somehow the biggest disasters, the most spectacular fiascos.  For example, that gig we played with Willie Nelson was great.  I can’t remember that much about it.  I still remember the Distillery though with vivid clarity…


At February 8, 2019 at 1:09:00 PM EST , Blogger Mr. Suit said...

No doubt about it, Bernie's was the worst. This cannot be questioned. Although the Penguin Pub in Youngstown's bowl had a chunk cracked out of it for awhile where waste would spill onto the floor if you flushed it.

I walked into Bernie's men's room a couple of times where there was fecal matter piled high over the top of the bowl. It wasn't that one person decided to "pile on," it was several. Just horrible. I also witnessed the toilet in "piled high" condition where Tony P. was actually trying to fix it. I felt bad for him, but still had to go - just not on the pile.

At February 13, 2019 at 5:20:00 PM EST , Blogger AZ said...

Of the many times I went to Bernie's, after only one trip to the bathroom, I always would slink out to use any other place near it to do any type of "restroom work."


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