It was the Fall of 1978 and I was standing in the audience, waiting for the marvelous British Punk band, The Buzzcocks, to play their first ever New York show.
Before we go a sentence further, I must tell you, I am truly a mild-mannered fella, benignly boisterous at times, but, a Peaceful Percy for the most part. Yet, this story will absolutely put me in a bad light with you. I got nasty and paid the price. I don't expect to be condoned. That said, I suspect, if it had been you, you would've at least wanted to do the same.
This Buzzcocks show was highly anticipated. We'd been selling literally hundreds of Buzzcocks import singles and LPs for over a year at the record store I helped run on St. Mark's Place, Punk Rock's Main Street, NYC/USA. So, while this band was barely known in America, they were already a very big deal in New York City amongst the East Village cognoscenti. That night, for a change, Irving Plaza was packed. I was there as an outright fan of the band and I recognized literally dozens of my customers in that ballroom.
For those of you unfamiliar, the Buzzcocks were the most melodic of all the original Brit Punk bands, while performing their stuff with guitars set on stun at all times. Not only did the band roar, the songs soared. The lyrics, prototypically sung in that much imitated adenoidal whine we have all known and loved all these many years later, were ingeniously universal while being blatantly personal, a great trick. A Best Of album by this band is a very very worthwhile purchase.
The venue, Irving Plaza on Irving Place and East 15th St (two blocks south of where Washington Irving wrote "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"... yes, the street is named after him), is now one of the venerable and hallowed institutions in New York's live music scene. Bands the likes of U2 and The Who have their secret shows there these days and the place probably has at least 10 national-act shows a month ... all run with precision, state of the art gear, totally pro.
But, in 1978, Irving Plaza was a dumpy off-the-beaten-path Polish dance hall/meeting hall that had been laying fallow for years. Rock gigs, promoted by a few seat-of-the-pants visionaries, were just starting to creep into the ballroom. Everything was kinda sketchy. The lights and PA were dodgy. The in-house crew was virtually useless. Even though the main room could comfortably hold at least 800, most of the shows were lucky to get to low triple digit ticket sales. Hell, the place was so scruffy, they even booked my band, The Planets ... twice!
Small stuff at Irving Plaza was a problem, too. For one thing, at every show, there were always dozens of folding metal chairs leaning up against the east wall of the room ... just waiting to cause problems at a rock concert.
A minute or two before Buzzcocks came onstage, the friend I was with and I spotted those folding chairs. Neither one of us was happy with our halfway-back non-view of the stage, but, neither of us was willing to deal with the crush of bodies down front. So, we each grabbed a chair, dragged them to the center of the floor, climbed up onto them with each of us straddling them, one leg on each chair to create some semblance of balance. We were about 50 feet back and had a panoramic view of the whole stage.
No one else seemed to get the same idea and for the first three or four songs, we had the best view of anyone in the house... our sight-lines a good three feet above everyone else's heads.
As the band, who sounded great, launched into their fifth number, a banged-up leather-jacketed kid lurched out of the seething mosh pit (no, I don't think that term for the lunatic area in front of the stage had been coined yet). Heading straight for us, he was very clearly absolutely wasted on some kind of downs and had no business even being in public in his condition. When he came upon the two chairs we were standing on, now blocking his way, he became confused, then cranky. He started to try to push his way through the two chairs. My friend and I tried to direct him two feet to the right where he could easily go around the two chairs. This made him mad.
He reached out with both hands and, in his now aggressive stupor, grabbed me and my friend by the crotches of our jeans and shoved the two of us backwards while firmly holding onto our junk.
As we started to fall, I said to myself, "Well, motherfucker, you're coming with me!"
I grabbed his greasy hair, down all three of us and the two chairs went, crashing to the floor.
Now, I'm reminding you ... I'm almost an Arnold Stang milquetoast kinda guy ... really! But, I lost it. I recall a blood red rage just blanked my mind out like dense smoke.
Within two seconds, I was on my feet holding one of the chairs over my head. Yes, indeed, I smacked it down, full force, onto this 'lude-ed-out twerp's head like some WWF freak. Then, as he he lay prone on the floor, I started to kick him in the ribs with my highly visible white Beatle boots (not as pointy as the ones on Joe Jackson's "Look Sharp" album, though). Nonetheless...
Somewhere around the fourth kick, I was suddenly literally swept off my feet. Two enormous Polish bouncers had picked me up under my arms and were now carrying me out of the hall with my legs flailing air like Wylie Coyote or some shit.
I started yelling the classic line, "Put me down!"
And the even-more-classic, "He started it!"
And, actually, as it was happening, a part of me heard me yelling those bar-room/schoolyard cliches and I giggled inside ... before humiliation and fury snapped me back to the moment.
Within twenty seconds, at most, I was tossed out an exit door next to the main entrance.
The two bouncers had made a show of it. Kids who were still outside trying to get into the show gaped and gawked. I remember trying to look haughty and disdainful as I walked away, hoping to give off a "The Buzzcocks sucked anyway!" vibe.
33 years later, I'm cringing while I proofread this.
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