Friday, October 6, 2017

Abandoned Rock Venues

I was eight weeks old when we moved to California, so when people ask where I'm from, that's what I usually say; it's cooler anyway than Passaic, New Jersey. In 1984 I moved back to New Jersey to go to college. Turns out, there was plenty of cool in Jersey as well, despite JWoww and The Situation. 

Thumbing back through the posts over the past few years, I've noticed the numbers of references to abandoned and defunct clubs and venues, indeed, the ruins of many of my own haunts, from the ON Club to The Masque to Passaic's Capitol Theater. Doing the research, I found real beauty in the dilapidation of these venues, however close the memories may hit. The Capitol, for instance, where I saw REM in 1984, no longer exists. The Passaic Capitol's appearances since 1972 included Talking Heads, The Grateful Dead, U2, Peter Gabriel, Elvis Costello and Frank Zappa, and these names only scratch the surface. The iconic venue and theater was demolished in 1991; it seems north Jersey needed another strip mall.

Another NJ venue with a rich rock history was the Satellite Lounge, smack dab in the middle of the state amidst pine barrens and the air force base. A converted bowling alley, and in its day New Jersey's largest bar, the club hosted Bruce Springsteen, Kiss, Anthrax and Twisted Sister, a real anomaly in central Jersey. It was rock and kitsch at its finest. A 40-foot long mural of the night sky painted behind a plushly padded green pleather bar depicted a single spacecraft, its retrorockets firing into space. Though it sat decaying for nearly 20 years, it was razed just a few years back, a cow pasture far from giving away the site's rockin' past.

The Satellite, Cookstown, NJ

The Eastown Theater, Detroit
Doing the research on the New Jersey clubs, I found some equally beautiful depictions of rock era clubs that I can only wish I attended. The Eastown Theater spent nearly four decades thrilling Detroiters as a movie house until it closed in 1967, though the thrills were far from over. The once opulent movie palace was largely stripped of adornment, and its seats were ripped out in order to cram more humanity onto the cement floor. It was in this incarnation that the Eastown became one of Detroit's most notorious concert halls. On May 29, 1969, the theater reopened with its first rock show with SRC, a local Detroit hard rock band, as the headliner. Among those who would play for $3 to $5 a ticket were the Who, the Kinks, Yes, Fleetwood Mac, the Faces, Jefferson Airplane, Cream, Captain Beefheart, Steppenwolf, King Crimson, James Gang, Rush, J. Geils Band and Joe Walsh. Among the locals, the MC5, the Stooges, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels and Bob Seger all took its stage, as well as the venue hosting the first leg of Joe Cocker's "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" tour. While the Grande (read on) had a hippie vibe, the Eastown was all blue-collar — and it was rough. "I remember stepping over a body that had overdosed in front of the backstage door on my way in to talk to Alice (Cooper),” Bill Gray recalled in the Free Press in 1976, and Cooper told him that the Eastown was "the best audience in the world. And I’m not saying that just because you’re writing it down. Any other city, people went home from work to put on their Levis and black leather jackets for a concert. In Detroit they came from work like that."

The Grande as a Converted Church
In 1966 the Grande Theater was acquired by local radio DJ Russ Gibb. Gibb was inspired by visiting San Francisco's Fillmore Theater, and envisioned a similar venue in Detroit for psychedelic music and a resource for local teenagers, the goal to bring in bands from from San Francisco, the States and Europe, including the MC5 (who recorded their debut live album there). With managers Tom Wright and Bill Robbins, the club booked and presented many national and international acts including Led ZeppelinJanis JoplinPink FloydThe Grateful DeadHowlin' WolfJohn Lee HookerJeff BeckProcol HarumCream and The WhoThe MC5The Thyme, and The Stooges served as house bands, assuring weekly performances. The Grande also featured the avant-garde jazz of John Coltrane and Sun Ra.

Inside The Grande

Seems like the Calico Ghost Towns of the rock era can be found in every city in America and abroad. The following graphics represent a photo collage of what we've lost over the years, from the Carolina in Charlotte, NC, which hosted Elvis in 1958 to the Hulme Hippodrome, at which The Beatles played on eight occasions starting in 1962.

The Carolina, Charlotte, NC

The Hulme Hippodrome, Manchester - Picture The Beatles on That Stage
The Hippodrome as a Dance Venue and Bar