I try to avoid eulogizing NYC too much any more. We all know that the flavor has been priced and railroaded out of town by developers and that our version of the city disappeared as we changed and grew older. But change is the only constant, nothing stays the same and even if there was some kind of underground scene now, we would hate it because it’s not ours. There probably is, all those young guys with waxed old-timey mustaches must be hanging out with those droopy, skinny young girls with weird mullet cuts and no makeup somewhere, listening to something, I guess drinking craft beer and talking about getting DJ gigs “just for fun”. We see them and we think, “Yech.” They see us and they think, “Dinosaurs.”
It’s fine. I don’t hate all of them. My boyfriend Sam is a millennial too, albeit a strange one who loves my heyday more than his own. My friend overheard two girls his age talking, one said, “Yeah, he’s cute but don’t bother. He likes old ladies.” That made us chuckle. But it’s somewhat true, and he reminds me of what it is to be that young and to still be sorting out exactly who you are and who you want to be. It’s not easy and I too have liked and worn some stupid things along the way. Circle of life and all that crap.
So after years of emotional struggle, I accept where we’re at, at least culturally. I know I probably have a few more years in the city and then I’ll retire on a farm with Storm somewhere, where we will collect too many animals, sleep alone in our bedrooms, get drunk on the porch while reminiscing, and casually ogle the younger neighbors when we go into town for groceries.
But I digress…
Rock shows are sparsely attended for the most part, bands go on much earlier because the fans are older, people have day jobs and/or kids to attend. Many of my peers, often the ones who complain the most, won’t go to a show even if they do have the time. They wear it like a badge of geriatric honor, “Oh, I don’t go out anymore…” I do, though in a different, less frenetic manner. I still like the hand I have in it; my jobs allow me to work on the back end of the music world and I still get to see some of my old friends and hear live music. That’s enough every couple of weeks or so, and I’m usually home by 1 am no matter who is playing. I need my rest.
On Friday I was honored to be able to host the Elyse Steinman memorial gig at Wham Bam Raff and Sam, our weekly happy hour party. Greg Stryzempka flew in from Washington, he and Alec Morton put a ton of work and love into making it happen, and we got a bona fide Raging Slab gig, with Alec at his bass post, Greg playing guitar and Elyse’s slide guitar, Mark Middleton on guitar, Bob Pantanella and Paul Sheehan switching off on drums, with special guests on songs Daniel Rey, Tom Five (who flew in from LA for it), Liza Colby, and Pamela Grande.
I remember the first time I saw Raging Slab at Danceteria in the mid-80’s. I was setting up the bar before opening and Greg was soundchecking onstage with his super long hair and tan/brown clothes. This wasn’t fully the norm yet, we were all still looking pretty goth at that point. He laughed and joked into the mic and then Elyse got up with him and they played with an ease and talent that caused me to pause what I was doing. Again, different than what we were listening to at the time, a portent of what was to come.
And then things blew up in the best way possible and our army of leather took over the East Village and there were amazing shows every night and we all got record deals and rock and roll was king and/or queen. Those were the days my friend, we thought they’d never end.
All these years later I walked into another soundcheck and saw Greg and Alec onstage and immediately burst into tears. I wasn’t expecting such a visceral reaction; I had to leave the room to pull myself together. I thought I’d become immune. But it felt so good to see Greg up there, and so poignant that Elyse wasn’t next to him that I felt overwhelmed with both joy and sadness. My heart swelled with the ache of it.
I had to rush around to set up the bar and was busy with customers and friends as soon as I opened for business. I am taking a break from alcohol for a few weeks and I felt anxious and crabby because there wasn’t time or space to fully process the emotions running through me or alternatively anesthetize with a shot or two. I am glad I weathered it sober though, because it allowed me to be present and to take it all in.
Once Slab hit the stage I couldn’t stay behind the bar. I tried, but it was too hard to focus on anything but the music. I pushed my way through the small crowd in the small room to the front of the small stage, and my old CSFH bandmate Vas Kallas (Venus P. Crusher), along with all of our friends, headbanged and danced and shouted the choruses. I had tears in my eyes the entire time and we hugged each other and screamed as if we were in an arena instead of a bar.
The songs sounded so good, SO good. Not just because they are the songs of our youth, but because our youth was full of really, really great songs and performers. I haven’t forgotten my past, I spend a lot of time answering Sam’s questions and telling him inside stories about what happened “back then”. But I’ve also had to put it in the back of my mind. It was like seeing someone years later that you were madly in love with who broke your heart. You put them behind you because you have to, but your cells never forget.
What a force we were: an army of talented idiots in hair dye and rock and roll gear, even with our inner skirmishes and ego-battles, infidelities and competitions, always united in our otherness and our music. We were all gonna be rock stars. And we were, even if most of the world doesn’t know or remember. We were all beautiful, that time was magical, and although we look like ordinary middle aged people to the rest of the world, we still have that magic within us. So I cried for the loss of a comrade, for the loss of my youth, and for the sheer joy of being able to step back into it for a moment with some of the people who experienced it too.
The last song of the set was a cover of Bad Company’s “Shooting Star”. Everyone sang along and it filled up the room with its beauty and we all felt Elyse dancing with us, her photos taped to the walls smiling and encouraging, the song so perfectly for her. At the end of it we all put our hands in the air and looked to the ceiling, to the sky, to her and shouted, “We love you, Elyse!”
Thank you for bringing us together one more time, Darling. You are very much loved and missed.