CBGBs with The New York (googoo) Dolls
Clanky loud stairs and harsh sun wake us up in the cruddy New Jersey motel room where the three of us are crashed out on the single bed mattress, box spring, and chair cushions. The NDI delivered the magic to a club called Rocky’s in Patterson, NJ last night — another strange gig, this one opening for a hair-metal cover band called Roxx, and oh my did their crowd not know what to make of us. On the one hand, we rock in a most serious and heavy way, but on the other hand we look like a fucking Vegas lounge act. Also we handed out raw chicken feet that we bought at the Centrella before the gig. We would later agree that not everyone in the crowd understood where we were coming from, and that getting nailed in the face with a thrown chicken foot hurt more than you would expect, and that we needed something softer to hand out — that’s why we decided in the future to go with marshmallows, which don’t hurt. They are also delicious, easy to throw, and cheap.
On the road, high-level decision such as these are typically made over breakfast, which in Patterson is at the “FOOD” restaurant next to the gas station where we stop to fill up the Zebra. We’ve been out for over a week now, and the sense of unreality is only getting deeper. Out here no one knows us, no one cares about or as even heard of our previous band, and yet we still ALWAYS call each other by our new names. Why not? Our real selves are of no use to us here. We are who we say we are, so last night when an earnest heavy metal squid came up to me after the show and said, “Dude, I thought you guys rocked,” and asked me where we’re from, I leaned in and said, “Bucksnort, Tennessee! You ever been there?” Getting paid our measly $50 at the end of the night, Skipper agreed with the owner that it was ridiculous to put our band on stage with Roxx, and told him that Kenn, the fucker who booked the show, was “a total weasel.” The only time we actually do use a real name is when Goodtime signs the register at whatever dumpy motel we’re checking into: John Smith.
Gobble up the pancakes and fake syrup, drain the coffee cup, tip the ass-dragging waitress, and haul our sore corpses back into the van. Jesus we spend a lot of time in this van. For whatever reason we no longer call anything by its real name: the map is called a crab, and the squeeze-toy crab that announces each new state is “the map;” the radio is the heater, the heater is the dome light, and so on. We are also accumulating random souvenirs. Hopelessly lost in Albany, we had to turn around in the parking lot of a recycling center, so our front dashboard now sports a big sign that says “Please Crush Jugs.” This is our universe, our clubhouse, our R-and-D control center. Sometimes we play a song on a messed up acoustic guitar that we found in the garbage behind the club in Cleveland, but most of our time is spent sleeping or laughing.
The last stop on the tour before we arrive in NY to play at the legendary CBGB’s is at another great venue, Maxwell's in Hoboken, NJ. It’s Wednesday night and we’re opening for a cool band for once, the first time on this tour that it seems like the other band is even from the same planet as we are, although we’re from Bucksnort, so go figure. But the NDI’s brutal trash-fest mixes real well with this bunch of rock kids called the Spinning Wighats, and the night turns into a meeting of the Mutual Admiration Society. It turns out one thing we have in common with the Wighats is that neither of us draw. But we rock hard for the handful of bystanders, shower them with marshmallows and breakfast cereal, and make ourselves another little passel of fans. That’s how it’s been this whole trip — in every town a few people come up to us wide-eyed after the show, asking for a guitar pick or an autograph, or just looking to tell us how hard we rocked. It’s lovely, it gets us through the night.
The Wighats are kind enough to let us crash at their band apartment in Hoboken, and the next day we hang out for a while and then say our goodbyes and pile into the Zebra and head for NYC. We’re pretty amped. For once our hick schtick isn’t totally schtick — we’ve never played here before, and to be landing at CBGBs the first time out is a real kick for the NDI, who are after all really just a bunch of midwestern punks who grew up listening to the Ramones. Goodtime steers us into the Holland Tunnel, pretty amazing in itself, and then we pop out the other end and and boom — it’s New York City. We feel the immediate need to own this place. It is our destiny! Take us straight to CBGBs!
So we get lost for about an hour and a half, thanks to our hard-to-understand New York city crab. Traffic is a mess of course, although it is pretty cool to watch the reflection of our un-missable Zebra van in the swanky store-front windows. GT is driving and he’s keeping it together pretty well, and then he finds a street we need, and then he wheels the Zebra over to the curb, and there, framed in the windshield, is the big black-and-white sign that graces the front of the greatest punk club in the world. It’s a real holy moment, and then honest to god this happens: a bum walking by in front of the club stops to rummage through one of those big steel wire trash cans by the street, and comes up empty handed. Then he turns around, drops his filthy trousers, hoists his pale white ass over the edge, and starts to shit into the can. Directly in front of us, in the middle of the afternoon. To this day I don’t know if it’s horrifying or awesome, but it is surely a sign of some kind. It takes forever, long enough for Skipper to find his little camera and take a bunch of pictures. At one point it seems like an obvious cover for our next album, but that weasel Kenn talks us out of it.
Anyway fuck that, let’s move the show into the club, in through the pitch-black front doors, picturing how many other bands, how many of our idols, have rolled through here. This place is as narrow as a bowling lane and dark as a cave, and the stage at the far end is small and high, and there are drums sets and random gear on a big shelf/loft behind the stage, and beer bottles underfoot, and of course graffiti of the gods all over everything. We get our own little closet dressing room behind the stage. We’re playing with the Googoo Dolls, who have recently changed from being a thrashy punk-pop band to a strummy FM radio hits band, and although it doesn’t really make sense to put us on the bill with them, at least it’s better than opening for Roxx. Hilly, the booker and a rock god himself whose vision for the club made it what is was, tells us the place will be packed. Fuck yeah! The NDI is truly sprinkled with fairy dust.
There’s no free beer but there’s also no shortage of liquor stores on Bowery Street, so our smuggled fifth of vodka has us pretty well lubed up by show time. The place is packed to the rafters, thanks entirely to the Googoo Dolls and not at all to us, but forever after the NDI will tell interviewers, and anyone else who cares to listen, all about the time the New Duncan Imperials sold out CBGBs. We’re second on the three-band bill, and the first band plays, and our world is swirling a little, and then the first band finishes, fine, fine, can we get up there now? We have two amps and two drums and a truckload of random yard-sale shit to get on the stage. So what’s the hold up? And then the bass player dude from Googoo Dolls comes strolling up in his choo-choo Charlie overalls and bare feet, and tells us that actually no, we’re not on next. There’s this other band that has been touring with the Googoo Dolls, and they’re on next. The NDI will not be opening for the Googoo Dolls, but instead will actually be playing AFTER the Googoo Dolls. He’s being a lot nicer than he has to be, and I can tell he feels bad, but ultimately it’s just “sorry dudes.” And away he goes.
This news does not go down well with approximately 100% of the membership of the New Duncan Imperials, and if our CBGBs dressing room hadn’t already spent the last two decades being trashed by everyone from the Deadboys to Devo, at that moment we would have done the job ourselves. We’re nice, dumb hicks from Bucksnort, but there’s a limit. But barefoot dude is gone and that’s it — there’s no discussion. The crystal wave of blessed stardom we have been riding sets us down with a thump on the scabby floor of the most famous rock club in the world, and we sit there in our fucked-up little dressing room, gloomy and drunk, without a friend in the world, and wait for the Googoo Dolls to finish their third encore and finally take down their gear. Then we rush like madmen to get our shit up on the stage, but by the time they clear out and we set up, CBGBs is completely, thoroughly, historically, empty.
Time to rock!
And rock we do. The intro tape blasts “No Business Like Show Business,” and we leap onto the stage in our snazzy tux and hat ensembles with the exact same energy and power and joy that we have radiated at every stop on this tour. The first song, “Jackson, MS,” sounds amazing up here on this loud little stage, and it’s just too bad there’s no one here to hear it. The song ends and Skipper and I strike a heroic rock pose, guitars high, heads thrown back. The echoes fade, and then instead of a dead silence we hear wild cheering! A little crowd, just a few people, loud and proud, are going bonkers and shouting our name! Who’s here? Peering into the darkness, we see our crowd: it’s the Spinning Wighats. They drove in from Hoboken to see us, and now here they are, going bananas, rocking with the NDI. We love them, each and every one of them, and we still do. Rock moments don’t have to be big to be epic.