40 years ago TODAY, I left my childhood home of New York City. NYC was a hovel in the late 70’s, broken down, filthy and hopeless. Son of Sam was reigning terror, the subways were a lawless no-man’s land and the South Bronx was on fire. I was a starving musician sleeping on a friend’s pull out couch. It was freezing outside, I was broke and my family had all moved to Beverly Hills. They had a swimming pool and lots of sunshine. Every winter, my folks would send me a round trip ticket to visit LA for my birthday. In February of 1980, Mom said, “No more round trips. If I gift you another ticket, it’s going to be one way”.
Our band was changing. We had been increasingly successful in ‘78 and into ‘79, getting lots of gigs all around NYC and Long Island, playing big clubs (and small) and the college circuit. We were reviewed in Variety and local papers. On a good night, we could draw 200-300 people, maybe more at the college lunch hour shows. We even played twice at the Central Park Bandshell and twice in Washington Square Park. But punk and disco and rap were all blowing up and suddenly we were questioning our direction. We stood in front of Great Gildersleeves and looked down the Bowery where one block down the lines in front of CBGB kept getting bigger as our crowds started getting smaller. We added more band members, tried to adjust our sound. We even played a gig at CBGB.
Arista Records Publishing was having meetings with our band leader. They started feeding him tunes from their catalog for us to arrange and demo up. The feedback that was slowly coming back to us was, “Great work. You’re getting close. You could be signed in a month”. I was unconvinced. I needed unfiltered info and demanded a meeting with this exec. My partner and I ventured to this guy’s Lower Manhattan loft for the meet up. I don’t remember anything about the place other than it was brick walled and the walls were covered with zithers. Rad! We “got comfy” and he played us some of the new music he was into. It was the first time I heard Squeeze, a real game changer for me.
Side note: the guy’s name was John Wonderling and he had a little girl named Allison. Yeah. His daughter’s name was Allison Wonderling. Hahaha. How cool is that?!
After hours of avoiding the elephant in the room, I finally gathered my chutzpah and said, “So, I hear we could be a month away from being signed”. John responded, “Yeah. Could be a month, a few months, a year, but I like what I’m hearing”. A year? Could be? I didn’t hear anything after that. My heart sank and my ears shut down. The next morning, I called my Mom and asked for that one way ticket.
I’ve been back to NYC at least 20 times since March 27, 1980. I just love that place. I’ll always consider myself a New Yorker and I am so eternally grateful to have grown up in the greatest city in the world. My thoughts are with all of my friends in NYC who are living through times that must make the 70s look like Disneyland in comparison. I cherish my 40+ year relationships and I love you all. I hope to see you all again after this storm passes.
LOVE, peace and wash your hands.