Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Maxwell's: The First & The Last

It has just been announced that after 33 years of presenting many of the finest musical acts in one of the most intimate settings, Maxwell's in Hoboken, NJ will be closing their doors at the end of July.

I was aware of Maxwell's long before I ever stepped foot in it. I probably got my first bootleg cassette of a Maxwell's performance around '84 and it was likely R.E.M.. And then The Replacements. And The dB's. And Joe Jackson. And so many others. It was very clear that this was a special room. You could hear it on magnetic tape.

I don't remember the first show I saw there. However, I do remember the first time I visited Maxwell's and walked in the back room. It was the summer of 1988. I was visiting NJ prior to my move a few months later. Glenn Morrow of Bar/None Records invited me out to dinner to discuss plans for my moving out and recording my album. He suggested Maxwell's. Hallowed ground! I remember nothing of the dinner, nor the discussion.

What I do remember is, after dinner, Glenn asked me if I would like to see the back room.  To me, this was an invitation to Graceland, Sun Studios, Ardent Records or the Grand Ole Opry. "Really? We can go back there?" No bands were playing that night. The room was empty. A rock and roll sanctuary. I felt the stage floor. I climbed the steps and nervously stood in the same spot so many of my heroes stood in. The stage where so many great shows I had listened to over and over again were created. Not only that, but I was getting the tour from a member of the very first band to EVER play live music in Maxwell's. Before Glenn started The Individuals, he was in a band called 'a' with the original 3 members of The Bongos. They were the first band to walk into Maxwell's and ask Steve Fallon for a gig.

I wish I could remember the first show I saw there. It was likely The Original Sins. The first handful of shows I saw once I moved out were, for the most part, Bar/None related shows. I was broke. I had just moved from DeKalb, IL and I didn't even have a job yet. I was living on my brother's couch in Brooklyn. But I was invited to all the Bar/None shows. On The guest list! Which narrows down that first show to The Sins or TMBG, almost certainly.

As time went on, I quickly moved to Hoboken and eventually wormed my way into a job at Pier Platters in the spring of 1989. (That story is posted here.) Soon after I started at Pier, Maxwell's became my third home. For the next 6 years, I spent my days at Pier,my nights at Maxwell's and I crawled home to sleep in-between. And what a time it was. If you scrape the pole in the back room, you will certainly find plenty of O Ball DNA samples.

I have forgotten far more shows that I saw there than I remember. But there are many that stand out. A "secret" Replacements show in '89, the first Holsapple/Stamey duo show ever, the first solo Bob Mould show ever, numerous shows by Superchunk, Mudhoney, Redd Kross, Jon Spencer, Fluid, Alex Chilton, Dinosaur Jr., Freedy Johnston, Bewitched, Unrest, Poster Children, Finger, Phil Gnarly & The Tough Guys, The Electric Nubians, Pavement, Sleepyhead, Cell, Das Damen blowing out the power EVERY DAMN TIME! SO many more! As well as my own performances there.

And all the people I met! To have Peter Buck or Bob Mould or any one of The dB's come over to say hi and chat, well, I still thrill at the thought. Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.

When Pier went down in '95, it was a body blow. It took a lot of the wind out of my sails. My visits to Maxwell's were far less frequent, though I would manage to get my ass over there a couple of times a year. Once I was even hauled out on a stretcher!

The last time I was there was in March. My old label mate, Brother JT of The Original Sins, was playing. I don't think we had seen each other in 25 years. He still puts on a show. And makes those guitars scream! It was awesome. I got to chat with my old Maxwell's pals John O'Toole, Charlie Charas and Mike Rosenberg. I ran into Lyle Hysen, Brian Musikoff and Todd. If Steve Fallon and Bill Ryan had been there, I think my head might have exploded.

After the show, I hung out with Brother JT for a while and we played catch up, swapping stories in shorthand that only labelmates would understand. It was a great night. And it is why I would like to believe that The Original Sins were the first band I saw at Maxwell's. I dunno. Maybe I'll change my mind and slip into the back room one more time, But I think I prefer to leave my last visit right here. Not knowing it was my last visit, closing the circle the way it started and spending just another night back home.

Thank you, Steve. Thank you, Todd. Clubs come and go. But to be a part of something so magnificent that has left so many memories with so many people? That's a legend. And legends never die.