Over my many years as a rock 'n' roll/pop culture freak, I've had my share of classic New York City encounters with celebrities and ummmmm, street life. A few of these wound up in my recent eBook on Rhino, My Life In The Ghost of Planets - The Story of a CBGB Almost-Was. So, yeah, threesome's some fun lil excerpts here, although the GOOD stuff you'll have to PURCHASE... 104 pages fro $2.46... a total rip-off, I can tell ya...
So, here we go, ten totally random encounters you may find entertaining...
On a gorgeous mid-spring evening in 1975... Heading to rehearsal, my singer, Tally and I were walking to the downtown IRT 1 train. We were crossing West 116th St., directly opposite the main entrance of Columbia University. For some reason, I turned and looked into the big green Chrysler station wagon that was sitting at the red light on 116th, waiting to turn downtown on Broadway.
I noticed the guy driving had long hair and a big bushy beard.
I noticed the guy riding shotgun had long hair and a big bushy beard.
I noticed between them sat a small Asian woman with long hair.
I looked away.
Then, my wee-small brain murmured...
"Uh, Binky, I hate to bother you as you're halfway across the street what with the light changing to red 'n' all, but... Ummm... that Asian woman... That's YOKO f*cking ONO! And, that would mean, one of those bearded chaps she's with is most likely your favorite... fucking... Beatle! You might want to look back into that big green Chrysler station wagon to confirm this semi-subliminal visual analysis on my part, you f*cking dipsh*t!"
I turned back, took another look, and..."HOLY F*CK, Tally! That's John Lennon in that station wagon we just crossed in front of!!!"
The light had changed and the station wagon had just turned downtown onto Broadway.
Tal and I took off at top speed, guitar cases and all, chasing the station wagon down the block. Just as we we caught up to it, as it now sat at the red light on Broadway, John looked out the passenger window, and in the space of two seconds, with his eyes and a quick hand gesture, said, "Guys, I see you. I see your guitar cases. I see that you're cool musicians. But, you're about to start a fookin' riot if you persist in chasing me fookin' car down fookin' Broadway. So, I'm acknowledging you, I'm waving to you, but, I really would appreciate it if you resumed being cool musicians and not make a spectacle of yourselves and consequently me 'cause I really really hate this shit, know what I mean, lads?"
We stopped dead in our tracks and with our eyes, responded , "Oh, jeeez, John, you're right! Really sorry, man."
Just then, the light turned green in the big green Chrysler's favor, and as it pulled away and headed downtown, John gave us a quick solemn nod of thanks.
Every now and then, when I was running a record store in the East Village, you'd encounter a "booster" aka shoplifter, who it was best to just let get away with their haul...
In 1988, I wound up doing time in the Jazz/Classical/Soundtrack Annex store we'd opened up that year. Unlike the St. Mark's location, the annex was on a much less traveled side street. We'd just scored an amazing amount of long-out- of-print sealed new John Coltrane LPs on Atlantic... at least 50 copies each of four different titles... and were selling them for the crazy low price of $9.99.
One night, this extremely 'street' drag queen flounced into the annex just before closing time. By 'street', I mean, dirty, wild-eyed, bedraggled, crude skewed make-up, stubble-ed, a true urchin, all 6' 3" of "her". It was almost 10pm on a weeknight. "She" was my only customer. I was the only employee. Sigh. I turned my back on her for about 10 seconds and she was suddenly heading full speed for the door. I could see from my cashier's perch that the Coltrane section that had had about 20 LPs in it a minute earlier was now empty.
I reached below the counter, flicked the automatic door-lock switch and grabbed the bat we had for moments like this. She yanked the door. It wouldn't budge. I announced, in my toughest voice, that I'd let her out after she gave me back the Coltrane LPs. In an instant, she was brandishing a knife at least 9 inches long.
"You let me out now, motherfucker, or I will cut your balls off!", she hissed.
20 Coltrane LPs vs. crotch-stabbing? I flicked the switch and told her I'd appreciate it if she never returned.
She agreed to that compromise with a hearty "Fuck you, mothefucker!!" and flounced back out with 20 sealed out-of-print Coltrane albums.
Ruined RuPaul for me, I can tell you that!
One Friday afternoon during Spring Break, schools were out and the record store was packed. Suddenly, I realized that, among all the standard East Village and Bridge and Tunnel customers, there were three guys in the store that did not belong! And, then, the front door swung open, and in came another...
All four were tall and the same height.All four were wearing the same black suit, crisp white shirt, shiny black shoes, and muted dark tie.All four had a small nondescript pin on their left lapel.All four had plain dark sunglasses on.All four had earpieces with thin wires going down into their collars.
All four seemed coiled like predators on the verge of the pounce.Their heads seemed to swivel rather than turn.Even in the East Village, this was weird and disconcerting.They noticed that I'd noticed them and it seemed like they did not like that.
I decided to 'deal with this' and walked over to the nearest one and asked him if I could be of help. His head turreted towards me and he said "No," as coldly as I've ever heard anyone say anything, and turned away. Clearly, I was an insect. I was also now totally baffled and frankly, genuinely intimidated.
I decided, that since he was actually on the premises at that moment, I should probably let Sounds' owner know what's going on in his store and headed down the main aisle toward the back room.
As I passed the R's in the Rock section, a sorta goofy looking strawberry-blonde teenage girl said, "Excuse me, sir..." and asked me if we had every Ramones album in stock. I hurriedly said "Yes, the ones you're holding are the complete set."Well, then, I'd like to buy these, please."
"Uhh, mmm, okay, follow me."
I quickly walked up to the cashier podium, opened the spare register, and rang up the 5 or 6 LPs. As this slightly fish-out-of-water teenage girl handed me her money, it suddenly hit me that I'd just sold a Ramones catalog to Amy Carter, POTUS Jimmy's daughter.
Let me tell ya, those Secret Service guys up close were no joke. Way Not Fun! For the five minutes Amy was in there, they owned that store.
On my way home from a music-biz convention in January of 1993, I was sitting in first class. With less than 5 minutes before take-off, the only seat in that section that was empty was the one next to mine. I was digging the idea of having TWO seats in first class to myself.
Suddenly, with literally less than 60 seconds to spare, there was a commotion behind me. A moment later, a young woman dressed head-to-toe in very expensive black, wearing huge darkdarkdark Jackie O sunglasses, with the most perfectly flawless skin I'd ever seen, flounced into the first class cabin and with melodramatic exasperation plopped herself down in the seat next to me. From behind her sunglasses she shot me a withering "Don't you dare even THINK of talking to me!" warning look.
It was Lara Flynn Boyle.
Christ, I'd had a wicked crush on her ever since "Twin Peaks".How the hell was I gonna sit there next to her for the next 5 plus hours and not say a word! Damn!
The plane took off and the ascent was choppy.I took a deep breath and muttered, "I feel like I'm on the A train..." With my peripheral vision, I saw that Lara gave me a tiny smile.
I leaned over and confided, "You know, as a New Yorker, I spend my entire time in LA waiting for turbulence in my hotel room!"
She got my little earthquake joke and gave me a bigger smile.
Wanting to allay any possible hitting-on-you scenario in her mind, I immediately took out my wallet, found a picture of my then two year old daughter, held it up for Ms. Boyle and said,"I haven't seen her for 5 days and I'm losing my mind."
"Oh my God, she is so beautiful! I have a niece the same age. What's her name?" And off we went...
This was years before Ms. Boyle's extended fling with Jack Nicholson and she turned out to be a sweet goofy kid. She even laughed when I accidentally called her Sherilynn! We talked a blue streak for half the flight (at one point, she confessed that she was sneaking marijuana behind her new boyfriend's back) until she started getting sorta woozy.
"Sorry, I only had four hours sleep last night, Binky. I've gotta take a nap."
So, I enjoyed some shameless staring while she dozed for the last 90 minutes of the flight back to JFK.
God, whatta profile on that woman!
One day, in August 2002, a dear theater friend called to ask if wifey Susan and I would be interested in seeing "Frankie & Johnnie" starring Edie Falco and Stanley Tucci on Opening Night from the front row of the first mezzanine, he had a pair waiting for us.
Whaaaaaaaa... Carmela Soprano on Broadway! Oh my God, are you kidding?! Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes... Thank you Thank you Thank you!
Digression: I am of the opinion that "The Sopranos" is the greatest TV series of all time, likely never to be topped.
So, a few weeks later, it was now less than 5 minutes 'til the curtain goes up, we're in our wonderful seats and I suddenly realized... I have to... peeeeee!
"I'll be right back, Hon..."
I went tear-assing down the stairs against the current of everyone else trying to get to their seats upstairs. I didn't see the bathroom or a sign for one anywhere.
Then, way down near the stage, I spotted a little dimly lit open area on the left side of the theater. Oh, goodie, there it is! I practically jogged down the aisle and plunged into this little room that I was dearly hoping was the loo.
Instead, I'm found myself in a 10 by 10 foot usher's alcove.There were six men already crowded into this claustrophobic space.Looking for the men's room, I'd found instead that I was face-to-face with Tony Soprano, Paulie Walnuts, Furio Giunta from Italy, Johnny Sac, Big Pussy, and Uncle June, all there to root for their Edie on Opening Night.
Quick Tawdry Aside: The opening scene of "Frankie & Johnnie" featured Tucci and Carmela in bed, making love. They seemed to be... ummm... unclothed. No doubt this facilitated their during-the-run affair. Then, the fabulous Ms. Falco got out of bed stark naked. I have to report that her hiney was a 17 on a 10 scale.
Anyway, my urgent need to pee instantly evaporated at the sight of about half the motherfuckin' cast of The Sopranos standing in directly front of me.
I will never have any idea what weird bravado came over me, but, I stepped right up to James Gandolfini, draped my arm over his shoulder (What!?), he looked at me like "This better be good, ass!" and I said, with all the Mafia Tony arrogance I could muster...
"For 35 years, The Avengers was the greatest show in the History of Television. The Sopranos... blows... it... awwwayyyyy!"
Tony Soprano looked at me, smiled, wagged his pointer finger in my face in the classic Mafioso manner, pointing at the ceiling, and said...
"Mrs. Peel?! I don't think so!"
How fucking great a line is that?!
Then, to top it off, Furio leans in and says (without a trace of accent, btw)... "Let me guess, you're in the music business."
I was astonished!
"How in the fuck did you know that?!" said me.
And all six actors burst out laughing... as in, uproariously.
"How!? How did you know that?!"
They all laughed even harder.
I shrugged, told them that it was an honor to meet them all, that their show was the best ever, with apologies to Diana Rigg and Patrick MacNee, but I'd been looking for a bathroom and that I was now going to find it.
By 1973, like most New York City rock musicians, I was totally in the thrall of Glam. I wore Large-Gals t-strap Maryjanes, velvet, satin, sequins. I had a green and red Saturn dyed in my hair (The Planets... get it!), and being the kind of dolt who just had to push it, eyeliner top and bottom, both ears pierced, and all ten fingernails painted bright red.
I walked around the city all (New York) Doll-ed like this every day, virtually a cross- dresser. I would take the 40 minute subway ride from and back to Brooklyn three nights a week before and after we played a few hours in our Harlem/Hiroshima vault.
One late spring weeknight, we didn't finish blowing our brains out until about 2:30am. Then, the always-long wait for the train...
Back then, the typical New York subway car had long benches in the middle and four small two-person benches at either end, with a door to the next car right next to the two- person bench.
And back then, you could walk through or hang out between the cars on little platforms about 2 feet by 4 feet with flimsy chains linked together to keep you from falling under the steel wheels while the train barreled through the tunnels under Manhattan. Good for sneaking a reefer... not that I did that... ever!
Anyway, at about 2:45am this late Spring weeknight, I got on an almost empty downtown train with my 1958 Les Paul (yes, I took that guitar on the subway all the time!). I was the sole passenger in the car I'd entered. I sat down on one of the two- person seats directly next to the between-the-cars door and had the car entirely to myself for several stops. Frankly, it was a little spooky.
At 42nd St. - Times Square, the doors opened and in stepped a tall, muscular, totally bald black guy about 30 years old, wearing a loose white t-shirt, pressed jeans, and immaculate white sneakers. He was the only person to get on. He took a long hard look at me, walked over and sat down next to me on the two-person bench... in the otherwise entirely empty car.
The doors closed, the train started up, and as soon as we were back in the tunnel, this scary Marvin Hagler-looking guy turned to me, pressed his thigh hard against mine, and, in a soft deep growl, menacingly asked [dialogue guaranteed verbatim]...
"So... why are all ten of your fingernails painted red?" He was just glaring at me.I stammered that I was in a rock band and that this was the way rock bands looked these days and... He cut me off.
"Well, I'm getting a very specific message from those ten red nails." said matter-of-fact Marvelous Marv.
"Uh... oh... well... what message is that?" I managed to squeak.
"I'm getting the message that you and I are gonna go stand out there between the subway cars and you're gonna put my penis in your mouth... Right... Now!"
More heavy heavy glaring!
"Oh, NO... No... No, man, that's not the message at all. No, I'm just a guitar player in a rock band. No, I'm not gonna do that, I'm..."
He cut me off again.
"Well, then... when you get home, you best get your mama's nail polish remover and take that shit off your fingernails! You understand me?"
"Yes, yes, yes, I do... I will do that. Yes!" "Good!"
He stood up, brusquely threw open the door, and walked to the next car without looking at me again.
And when I got home, I did get my mama's nail polish remover and I did take that shit off! And never put it back on either!
And you know what?
It took me more than 25 years to figure out Marv was almost surely a plains-clothes cop giving me some sage advice (delivered very effectively, I think you'd agree)... and not an actual predator.
For the last couple of decades, if you say the phrase "The Music Building" to any musician in New York City, they will know you are referring to 251 West 30th St.The entire 16 floors are filled with music related businesses... recording and rehearsal studios, guitar makers, vocal coaches, indie labels, etc.
It's odd. There is another building 8 blocks uptown on 8th Ave. that's actually named "The Music Building".It was a johnny-come-lately in the 1980s that tried to steal the already established name. Madonna made that 8th Avenue one vaguely famous.
Still, just about everyone actually playing in a band calls 251 W. 30th "The Music Building".
Back in early 1975, my band, The Planets, was in need of a new rehearsal space.We knew a band called City Lights who were also playing CBGB and were actually Seymour Stein's first CBGB-related signing.Their manager had found this space in a building that was filled with Garment Center vendors... furriers, button companies, wholesalers, etc.Together, the two bands moved into this empty loft on the 12th floor. It was roughly 25 feet wide and about 45 feet deep. The floor was stone. The entire south wall was 8 foot high windows. The ceiling was criss- crossed with pipes of all sizes. To call it a live room was an understatement. It crackled.Of course, we put up no soundproofing whatsoever.The Planets lined up along the west wall, City Lights along the east. We shared the PA and just turned it to face the direction needed.City Lights were musically polite. The Planets, on the other hand, were devout in their practice of decibel mayhem. Looking back, it's a wonder I have any hearing left at all.
One night, while we were taking a break and smoking a joint, there was a hard knock on the door. I was closest.
"Hello, who's there?"
"The police. Open up."
The windows flew open and while the other three frantically fanned the air to get rid of the reefer aroma, I slowly undid the lock and opened the door.
Two young cops simply pushed right past me, walked to the middle of the room. One of them looked around, sniffed the air, and said...
"Well, you have the rock 'n' roll and the drugs... where are the girls?"
Stoned as were we, we burst out laughing despite the hellish potential of the situation.
Then, the other cop said..."We've got noise complaints about you from four goddamn blocks away. Are you guys crazy?! Get some carpets, some egg cartons. Jeez, you can't just blast away like this.We could hear you from 7th Avenue! Have a good night, fellas."
And... then... they left.
We were so shaken and so relieved that I don't think we even played again that night.
This happened at 251 West 30th St. during the summer of '75.Yes, The Planets and City Lights were literally the pioneers of The Music Building.
Every June, the promotion company I'd left in 1996, threw the most important rock radio/music biz party of the year. And, about 10 months after I'd split and started my own promo shop, Bink Inc, Aaron, this new radio client of mine, who I'd really hit it off with, called and kinda sheepishly told me that he had been invited to the Big Party and I shouldn't be upset. He was only going because so many of his friends would be there and...
I blurted out, "WHAT?! Hey, you're coming to New York City for the weekend, dude! That party is a total blast! You'll love it! Let's have Sunday brunch before you leave and you can give me all the party dish from the night before."
So, three Sundays later, I was sitting in a glorified diner on West 57th St with my chum, Aaron. He regaled me with party-dirt morsels, now lost in the ether, and then said that by far the coolest thing that happened all night was... while taking a fresh air breather outside the club, he, Aaron, saw Tony Bennett walk by on the opposite side on the street. And for him, this was the zenith moment of the Big Party.
Totally worth the trip to NYC alone, he said!
While client buddy Aaron is telling me all this, the glorified diner's maitre d' walked towards our booth with a couple and seated them directly opposite me and my pal. Literally, two booths maybe ten feet apart.
Facing my friend was the just-seated beautiful blond woman in her late 20's. And facing me, sitting directly opposite my pal...
Inwardly, I burst into incredulous hysterics.
Outwardly, I leaned forward and talking as tough Noooo Yawwk as a Gotti, in an almost- a-whisper Let's-cut-the-crapola James Caan mannuhh... I says tuh Client Boy Aaron I says...
"So, lemme get dis straight. You come to New York. You go to my competition's big deal party. Your big fuckin' whoop is seeing Tony Bennett on the other side of 57th street. Wow, he had to be less than 150 feet away! Okay. Fine... all well and good. Lemme ask you... Do you know why you should never ever regret working with me? Do you? Well, here's why, muthuhfugga... My competitor... Tony Bennett, 150 feet away. But, my company? Well, I bring you... Tony Bennett sitting next to you... Right now!"
My dear chum looked at me for a second trying to figure out what I was up to... and then slowly turned to his right and... went into a eyes-rolled-back-in-head swoon... 10 feet away.
"...forgotten in Manhattan", my ass!
I was 22, working as an office clerk, while I pursued Rock Stardom.
One day, I was sent on an errand for the companyʼs owner that took me past (the new) Madison Square Garden on West 33rd St. As I was walking by the stage door area just east of 8th Avenue, I saw a small knot of young street-wise black kids surrounding somebody. The excited-straining-to-see vibe these kids were giving off made me walk over to check it all out.
In the center of this crowd of maybe a dozen kids was... James Brown.
Oh man, let me tell you, Iʼve seen many many celebrities up close, but, that manʼs face in real life was so powerful, as to be almost incomprehensible. Pete Townshend, Jackie O. Kennedy, and Ed Sullivan are the only three others I can think of whose face just punched me square in the psyche in person. Overwhelmed, I gathered my wits, got out a pen and the only piece of paper I had on me, the invoice for whatever it was I was picking up, and when the moment was right, asked Mr. Brown if heʼd please give me his autograph.
James smiled and shook my hand.
"Whatʼs your name, brother?"
"His name is Binky." said James to the others surrounding him. That got a jolly laugh.
He then wrote...
"To brother Bink, On the road of life there are many turns and... "
And... he kept on writing and writing and writing... the other kids were visibly starting to get impatient and maybe even kind of annoyed and curious as to who the fuck I was to get this kind of treatment, something I was starting to wonder about myself.
James handed me back the invoice. I skimmed through what heʼd written. I was flabbergasted. Heʼd practically written me a letter (full of positive platitudes) in his seriously slanted and narrow handwriting, complete with a large and very flamboyant signature. I thanks him profusely and went back to my office.
To this day, I am simply baffled by what happened next.
Upon returning to the office just before 5pm, my boss asked for the invoice. I handed it over and went home for the day. Once I was back in my apartment, I wanted to show my girlfriend the note James Brown had written me. Thatʼs when I realized Iʼd handed it to my boss! And, yes, of course, when I got in the next morning sheʼd thrown it out the night before.
One day, about a month into my tenure at Guitar Lab as their gopher the summer of 1970, Bruce, this hotheaded very not-politically-correct kid from Long Island working there, a master repair and modification man at age 22, walked into the back room and said, "Hey, Binky. Ya wanna see Keith Richards with tits?" Uh, yes! I do!
I walked out to the main customer area and there was this skinny pale black-haired ragamuffin chick (I never use that word, but this was a chick) holding a beat up Fender Duo-Sonic (at the time, a total loser/beginner's guitar; I'm now a proud owner of a 1964 worth more than $2,000) and she was just about falling out of a really large, loose, and worn-out-to-paper-thin t-shirt with prominent and frankly fabulous breasts. She was frantically and inarticulately explaining over and over again that her Duo-Sonic was...
"Buzzin'! It sounds like shit. I mean, it's buzzin'. It's buzzin' bad. You can fix buzzin', right? God, this sucks, it's bad buzzin' alla time. Really buzzin' bad, man. Why's it buzzin'?"
Almost like she had Tourette's.
And, as it turned out, Bruce's description was utterly on the money. Her haircut was exactly Keef's in Gimme Shelter. Her cheeks were gaunt, the black eye-liner was thick, the bone earring was in place, as was a skull ring, ditto old black ankle boots with rundown heels, (maybe more Dylan in the footwear department... what with the price of snakeskin, even then). No hips in ratty black skin-tight jeans. Even at the age of 17, I could see that she was so immersed in her dream that she was genuinely unaware of the effect she was having on five 1970 chauvinist pig guys who worked in a guitar shop. We were all smitten and totally in novelty lust with her. At least two Guitar Labbers kept her there talking for quite awhile. But, after a few minutes, I kinda drifted away and went back to opening cases of guitars left for repairs that I could drool over. I guess I was the least infatuated. I mean, I dug her. Her look was down so cold. I was jealous, even in my ultra-cool Granny Takes A Trip boots. But she seemed like she really was a total urban-hillbilly goofball. Actually, just not sexy at all.
Yeah, it was Patti Smith.