'Tommy Ramone holding up bottle of Silver Stream Gewurz
I went to the Kleinert Center last night for the book promotion of 'All Hopped Up and Ready to Go' with the expectation that I was going to be sorely disappointed and also, that I was going in some fashion, in some as yet unknown way, to sorely disappoint. That is just how I generally approach these things and it is not without justification. These type of events are notorious for last minute no-shows of famous names, conversations based around an avowed disinterest in any topic except self promotion, leggy unobtainable and unapproachable 'hotties' floating at the edges of the crowd, me, I didn't care--I was just there selling wine,--so I thought.
The event proved anything but disappointing, the 'hotties' might have been sixty years old and the self promotion graphic equalizer turned to ten (but in a very classy way) but it was altogether a most enjoyable experience,--there were of course the expected no-shows,--Tony (that's Tony Fletcher, author of the aforementioned book) announced at the beginning that Artie Traum and John Sebastian (two of the big draw names) had other engagements and then graciously added 'well, I am glad at least they are still playing'. (What? no-ironic rancor?) Anyway, who was there? It was Tommy Ramone, (who I prepared to dislike and who was utterly disarming), Elda Gentile (who I had never heard of, ironically not having really paid attention to the punk scene but who proved eloquent and funny), Eric Weissberg (who I remember and whose beard I remember even more than him from the covers of old folk albums), and of course Fred Smith from Cerighino Smith Winery who (surprise surprise), also turns out (like me) to be a bass-player (only successful having played with Blondie and Television), and also currently (like me) a winemaker (only successful) and Tish and Snooky (also formerly of Blondie).
I showed up laden to the gills with amusing anecdotes about Markie Ramone (aka Markie Bell), who had grown up two blocks away in Brooklyn, (and who Fred recalled almost immediately had been a member of the Voidoids), my other claim to fame having played with Huey Lewis back when he was Hugh Cregg in a band called 'Raw Meat'. I kind of expected to be treated with bemused disbelief (as is usually the case unless I happen to run into an old Cornellian or someone from the old neighborhood). Anyway, to my surprise, I was not.
Now, I have to tell you all something, --when it comes to these stories
about the 'old days' nobody really gives an intense shit about them anyway, even the manic punk old days, where grandma and grandpa had safety pins tucked into their cheeks, so I guess the added disbelief is just kind of gratuitous,(witness my unread and perhaps unreadable memoir 'Down By Our Vineyard'), just nobody gives a shit except of course Tony Fletcher whose book is all about 'that scene', meaning of course the New York music scene of and in which we all participated in some fashion, hence this party, hence this meeting with Fred etc. etc.
But! and this is a big but, when musicians, true musicians get together (famous or not), there is a certain unconcerned humility that dominates the tenor of the conversation, this is not because the musicians themselves are humble, far from, we (they) can be as egotistically puerile as the next fellow, moreso, but rather it is from one common shared understanding, --that the distinctions of fame and money (and the corresponding investment in maintaining the fiction that that is what fundamentally separates them) is something like, well how to put this delicately, like watching your girlfriend screw the entire football team and then taking her to a Disney movie and trying to explain to her why Bambi's mother had to get shot,-- somehow you know your heart really isn't in it.
What was interesting about last night was that this was not where the conversation ended; it was where it started. Music was not about fame and tragic inevitability, it was about community, about art and about self-definition; that was a given and that's a pretty cool starting place if you ask me.
The topics and panel discussion really didn't get much past laying out those parameters and sort of devolved into reminiscences (which is what happens mostly when musicians get either hungry or thirsty, it is a sort of process of self preservation in the guise of self hypnosis).
Anyway, when I left, instead of the deflation and disappointment I had expected, I was inexplicably excited and calm at the same time,--I had really enjoyed this, if it was a freak show then I was part of the carnival. By the way, the 'Rock and Roll Red' which was the Cerighino Smith offering at the event was awesome, like the best Bordeaux I have drunk (drinken? drinked? drank I think) anyway cheers and keep up the good work.