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The Loud Zone - The Gay Roots of CBGB

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It's kind of a marvel to note how far back in the closet the true beginnings of Glitter/Glam/Punk have been shoved over the decades since The CBGB Era became a benchmark moment in Pop Culture.

Yes, I used the closet metaphor with a knowing nod. You see, the true roots of "The Home of Underground Rock" as Hilly's second slogan put it (it indeed made more sense than Country Blue Grass Blues - C.B.G.B.) were... Gay.

Hilly's On The Bowery (as it was initially known) was a 60 second bike ride from the Hell's Angels of Greater New York's headquarters. So, it was only natural, in that classic New York City way, that the very very first rock bands to perform at CBGB (while it was called Hilly's, that is) were, for the most part, overtly gay men and women, covered in glitter, wearing wigs, playing the trashiest possible rock 'n' roll with the least amount of skill while still being listenable. These were boys and girls in the thrall of the original punchy-pop-tunes British Invasion and, everyone's local heroes, the New York Dolls.

Queen Elizabeth, featuring the one and only Wayne/Jayne County, Eric Emerson & The Magic Tramps, The Stilettos, Ruby & The Rednecks, all as out there as you could possibly be, were playing to Hell's Angels who'd rather hear Haggard. Almost worked.

These bands were as High Camp as can be... I "blame" Warhol.

Wayne County, one of the real linchpins of the entire scene to come, had been an actual Warhol "Superstar", as well as Eric Emerson. I saw Wayne perform at The Roundhouse in London in August 1971 in "Andy Warhol's Pork".

That "Say You Are... And You Are!" ethos of Andy's was in full bloom with the wacky early 1970s bands in New York City... all unabashedly aping the New York Dolls, New York City's Rolling Stones, if you wanna know the truth. None of these bands were nearly as good as the Dolls, particularly in the songwriting department. But, they were all legitimately and intrinsically part of the evolution that led to revolution a mere two years later. And, yes, most were gay... or had overtly gay members.

Recording artist, Jimi La Lumia, whose current single is a very cool updated EDM-style cover of Question Mark's "96 Tears", available at iTunes, was actually there, while I was sitting on my ass settling for a once-every-8-weeks gig at the notorious dump, The Coventry Club in Woodside, Queens... and only going to New York Dolls shows. I indeed saw all these early early bands, but, only because they all opened for The New York Dolls. My band, The Planets, got our turn at the Mercer Arts Center, thanks to Dolls' singer, David Johansen, on December 19, 1972. I wouldn't personally discover CBGB until early December of 1974.

Here's Jimi...

"Hilly's On The Bowery was a hodge-podge of every musical genre you could imagine, and some you couldn't. I was writing for Good Times Magazine and I would journey to the Bowery for specific purposes, as a glam/glitter fan. Eric Emerson & The Magic Tramps playing there was considered quite a coup, the same with the early Suicide gigs. The big deal, the 'turning point', was in December, 1973, when Hilly booked Wayne County. This was very big, an attention grabbing deal. Why? Wayne County, at the time, was signed to David Bowie's MainMan organization, right alongside Iggy Pop, Mott The Hoople, and Lou Reed. The ad MainMan ran in the then essential Village Voice, which can still be seen on microfilm, drew many folks to that location for the first time. It was this gig, attended only by a few in-the-know types and many wild-ass actual Hells' Angels bikers, that made many scene makers aware of Hilly's place. In May of 1974, when Television booked a show there, they did not discover the place, as the myth goes. Early versions of hipsters were already quite aware of the club, and of Hilly. It took him a while to really get CBGB up to full steam. But, the whole shebang was birthed by a handful of gay artists."

Enter two of the gay performers whose time on the scene actually coincided with The Heyday, as opposed to its forgotten beginnings, Lance Loud of The Mumps and Paul Zone of The Fast.

Glitterati Inc. has published two books. One about each of these creative nutty groundbreaking boys, Paul Zone's Playground: Growing Up in the New York Underground and Pat Loud's Lance Out Loud.

I was pals with both Paul and Lance (in Paul's case, happily, still am).

1974 through 1978, my band, The Planets, shared bills with The Fast and The Mumps at both CBGB and Max's Kansas City. The Planets were probably the butch-est band on the whole scene. Not that we were merely four hets, but, we played in a big brawny macho styleee... like The Who and Led Zep.

The Fast were completely overloaded with ideas, some truly inspired and even visionary, some utterly ludicrous. Their concepts and their leader, Paul's oldest brother, Miki's songwriting was way past their skill level. They seemed to know it and tried worked around it. While every gig they did just exuded a Big Fun Party vibe, The Zone Brothers, Mandy on keyboards and Paul singing lead, were crazy ambitious, too. They seemed to be the only other band on the circuit besides mine that really was aiming at Madison Square Garden, as opposed to staying cool, cutting edge and cultish.

The Fast were the only other blatantly Who-ish band on the CBGB scene. But, while The Planets emulated (and to be honest, really fucking well!) the Live at Leeds Who while Miki and his brothers, Paul and Mandy, both Fast members, worshipped the Pop Art Union-Jack jacketed "silly singles" Who as exemplified by "Happy Jack", "I'm A Boy", "Boris The Spider", "Pictures Of Lily".

The Fast either made you laugh with them or at them. I was always on their wavelength. The ideas mattered more to me than the music. It is, indeed, Pete Townshend's delicious quote from 1967, "We never let the music get in the way of the show." that could have been The Fast Credo.

Paul takes us through The Fast's entire tale of joy and woe to his and Miki's actually-very-successful-in-the-UK-and-Europe reinvention as a Techno Dance Duo called Man-2-Man in the late 1980s.

The Mumps, on the other hand, were fairly straight-forward in their presentation. Taking their main cue from what's become known as The Kinks Reprise trilogy, the albums, Sunny Afternoon, Something Else and The Village Green Preservation Society, masterpieces all. Some Rubber Soul Beatles and a large heap of Sparks were in The Mumps' mix, too. They would've fit in nicely with the R.E.M. era of the early 80s, but, alas, didn't last.

Lance Loud was The Mumps' Famous Front Man. The rest of the band, somewhat standard issue good looking and skilled, was one of the few who actually arranged their songs, as opposed to just bashing out the chord changes. The Mumps were truly a precursor to what would be called "New Wave" by 1979.

Lance was one of the kids in the absolute very first Reality TV show, An American Family on PBS in 1972. For whatever reason, Lance's parents, Bill and Pat, decided to let a film crew into their home for several months and film just about everything short of bathroom trips. It was oddly compelling. By the second episode, my girlfriend, Pam, and I had picked up on Lance being the hippest of Bill and Pat's kids and, to our outraged delight, blatantly gay. In January, 1972, this was outlandish. At that time, the entire gay sensibility was represented by amusing but ultimately insulting caricatures like Paul Lynde, Charles Nelson Reilly, and Liberace. Seeing a kid our age (Lance was just two years older than me) happily and guilelessly prancing around having a grand old time was a revelation. Pam and I would watch the show every Sunday night, occasionally yelling at the tube, "More Lance! Where's Lance, dammit!"

It cannot be oversold, this show was revolutionary and the talk of the nation. Lance organically had become the focal point. At the end of the series, young Mr. Loud moved to New York City and soon, that very famous gay guy was in a band on the same bill as The Planets. It was genuinely odd to see him in the flesh. Remember, TV, radio, books... that was it back then. A "TV star" was a HUGE deal.

While there was professional camaraderie and a mutual respect, I never got close to Lance. His co-conspirator was Kristian Hoffman, an almost too pretty keyboard player and the brains behind Lance and The Mumps. Kristian and I probably had the best relationship between Mump and Planet boys. We genuinely respected each others' songwriting... at least I think that was the source of our mild bonding.

Kristian currently has an album out called Fop (@ iTunes, no doubt) which is just over-the-top brilliant, a mix of his beloved late-60's Kinks, Brian Wilson's crazy-genius period, Randy Newman, Van Dyke Parks, Freddy Mercury, The Left Banke, "Itchycoo Park" Small Faces... Kristian is utterly open about his sexual identity, but, it is not the focal point. He is a composer who is also gay. Highly recommended music for you more cerebral types.

The texts of both these hefty coffee table offerings (both over 230 pages) from Glitterati Inc. are immensely entertaining, and sometimes almost unbearably poignant. But, the true draw of both books are the photos.

Man, for me, these books are very personal 'I was there' trips. I know about 75% of all the people photographed in these two books. But, you do not have to have lived it to find these pages after pages of snapshots (always more revealing than "photography") supremely entertaining. Both books are veritable time capsules of the days when The Ramones and Blondie (to name just two) were two completely unknown bands scuffling for gigs and rehearsing in basements, complete with rats, when Johnny Thunders was a living breathing human being instead of The OD-ed Icon of Punk.

Many other famous faces are here, all in photos you have never seen anywhere else. In Paul's book, virtually every musician that made it out of, or got trapped in, the CBGB/Max's scene of the mid-to-late 1970s is on at least one page. I am very proud to have four whole pages to my own self, including the only known shot of me onstage, opening for KISS on July 13, 1973 at the Hotel Diplomat, a venue both The Fast and The Planets played more than once in the early pre-CBGB days.

Lance and Miki and Mandy Zone died of AIDS, the horrendous reality of gay men in the 1980s, even those in rock bands. These two books, while as entertaining as Saturday morning cartoons, memorialize Breakthrough Artists whose breakthroughs were crushed by the virus in their veins.

Really, when all is said and done, is anyone surprised that it was gay men and women who were the actual forefront of the CBGB/Max's Musical Revolution of the mid-to-late 70s?

I'm not.