Readin’ & Rockin’- Literate Books For Illiterate People


 With the exceptions of the Fleshtones (1976- present), Wild Jimmy Spruill’s Hell Raisers (1955- 1996) and possibly the Jive 5 (1959- 2006) the Senders where the longest running real rock’n’roll band in NYC history, I think they lasted for twenty five years (1976-2001).

And they were one of the best. I’ve probably seen the Senders five hundred + times. I never saw them do a bad show. What brings me to such a non-topical subject is something that arrived in the mail last week courtesy of Legs McNeil. It was a proof (in English) of a book which has so far only been published in French Au-dela’ de l’Avenue D. New York City 1972-1982 (Broche’ 2007) by Philippe Marcade (or Flipper as he’s known to New Yorkers) the Senders lead singer and one of those guys who has always been at the very center of New York City rock’n’roll.
The Senders began in 1976 with Flipper starting out behind the drums and Johnny Thunders’ occasionally filling in on guitar (seen in the above video clip). In their earliest incarnation they were kind of a New York version of Dr. Feelgood, covering classic R&B and R&R tunes in a greasy, bar band style. Dressed in sharkskin suits with pointy boots, pinstriped sock and greasy pompadours, they cut a striking figure. And one that stood out among the then fashionable spiky hair/bondage pants combo that took over New York in the wake of the Sex Pistols.
     After many personal changes and Philippe stepping out front as lead singer and harmonica player they settled into what became the classic Senders line up with Wild Bill Thompson on guitar, Steve Shevlin on bass and Little Moe Trucks on drums. This group cut a 45 that they issued themselves (“The Living End” b/w “No More Foolin'”, 1977) and a seven song EP on Max’s Kansas City’s own label issued in ’79. Since I don’t have a turntable w/a USB port plug I can’t post them. Later, after a brief break up they would reform and record two full LP’s Return To Sender (Skydog, 1998) which unfortunately Thompson only plays on half of, and Goodbye Cruel World (Action, 1999), their best and most representative waxing. Here’s “Takin’ That Train” from Back To Sender recorded with a later line up with Simon Charbonet on second guitar (Simon’s another one of those great, unheralded NY rock’n’roll institutions whose ship will probably come in the day after he dies) and Chris Cush on bass. For a decade the Senders played every Monday night at the Continental on 3rd Ave between St. Marks and 9th St, before that it was called Jack The Ribber and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins played every Monday, and before that it was a very scary drag bar called Frida’s Disco whose doorway always seemed to have a large, black, drag queen with an askew blond wig and a head to toe five o’clock shadow draped over a bar stool blocking the way. I never ventured into Fridas.  But Monday at the Continental was always fun. In those days I bike messengered from 2-9:30 PM, I’d go home and shower and head out to see the Senders. It was a great place to meet girls, usually skinny one with too much mascara, straight blond or black hair, black cotton tights and spike heeled shoes. They were always crazy and I still walk around the block to avoid some of those one night stands (nowadays they’re often pushing baby strollers on their way to AA meetings). The Senders’ brought ’em out– rockers, hipsters, strippers, nut cases, anybody with the vaguest notion of cool would end up at the Continental on Monday nights from ’83-’93.
Here’s a few of my Senders’ favorites from that era: their version of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Do The Do“, their rendition of Glen Glenn’s “One Cup Of Coffee (and A Cigarette)
and best of all, their spidery take on Sin Alley fave “Crazy Date“.
Beyond Avenue D. (the English title) brought back a flood of memories. Opening with Flipper facing a prison sentence in Arizona, 1972 the book takes in the rock’n’roll scene in New York, Boston, Paris and Amsterdam in what in retrospective was a sort of golden decade (’72-’82), and a partial list of names encountered– Johnny Thunders, Jerry Nolan, Sable Starr, Dee Dee Ramone, Nancy Spungeon, Cookie Mueller, Nan Goldin, Willy DeVille, et al gives you a pretty good idea of the type of wild and woolly times recalled (ie sex, drugs, and drugs). Of course it’s also a very sad book since most of the characters died, but I did laugh out loud a few dozen times. Whether he’s a fly on the wall, or at the eye of the hurricane (c.f. the Ramones first NYC show was at Phillipe’s birthday party in an Elizabeth St. loft around the corner from CBGB), Flipper has an extremely funny way at looking at the world, bemused, honest, perceptive, discerning, clever but never bitter or jaded. He never became a big star, but he’s cool enough to know that stardom wouldn’t have brought him the things he really wanted– like the freedom to play rock’n’roll Senders style. I hope this book is published in English, its author instinctively grasps more about NYC rock’n’roll life than a hundred Clinton van Heylins with all his didactic horse poop could ever fathom.
Every week when I’m in New York City I get on my bicycle and go to St. Marks Books and buy something. I do this in hopes the place will always be there. I can usually get the book cheaper by waiting for the Strand to get it (always half price!) or buying a discounted copy on Amazon, delivered to my front door, but St. Marks Books has been in NYC even longer than me, and since I long ago bonded with one of the owners, a guy named Terry, over a love of old rock’n’roll it would traumatize me if the place, like so many other staples of my NYC life was suddenly gone. On a recent weekly trip over there I spotted a book I didn’t even know existed, paid full price, and proceeded to read it twice in a row.
The tome in question is Josh Alan Friedman’s Tell The Truth Until They Bleed (Coming Clean in the Dirty World of Blues and Rock’n’Roll) (Backbeat Books, 2008). A hell of a title to live up to, but it does that and more. This volume, made up of fifteen short pieces not only tells the truth, but is funny, unflinching, and most of all literate.
Opening with a long, very telling interview with Jerry Lieber (of Lieber-Stoller fame) which will tell you much about the music business that has never been printed (the only subject he really won’t broach is the Mafia who used Morris Levy (Roulette Record, owner of Birdland, etc.) and George Goldner (owner of End, Gone, Gee, Rama, Tico and many other labels, Lieber & Stoller’s partner in Red Bird records)as a wedge into the record biz, that’s a shame for any book on early New York rock’n’roll that doesn’t mention Corky Vastola is only telling part of the story. There’s a long, extremely fine hagiography for songwriter Doc Pomus (who was cutting rock’n’roll records while Elvis was still at Humes High, unfortunately teenage girls preferred their singing idols wiggle their hips, not fall off their crutches). As an aside here’s some of Doc’s early 50’s rock’n’roll classics: “Work Little Carrie” ( Derby, dig Mickey Baker’s guitar playing!), “Bye Baby Bye” (issued as Doc Palmer on Dawn), guess what this one’s about– “My Good Pot” (Savoy), and finally a live one w/Mickey Baker and King Curtis circa ’55– “My Gal’s A Jockey/Bye Bye Baby“. Now here is a bizarre one by Doc and Phil Spector issued under the name of Harvey & Doc & the Dwellers– “Oh Baby”  (Annette, 1962).  The funniest part of the Pomus chapter is when wheelchair bound Pomus’ van driver disappears leaving him stranded stage side at a Bruce Springsteen concert: “Man this stinks,” Doc said. I never saw him so pained to leave a show, as Springsteen, a great crowd pleaser kept pouring it on. Make ’em bleed indeed!
Pomus, who story is told in more detail in Alex Halberstat’s Lonely Avene: The Unlikely Life & Times Of Doc Pomus (DeCapo, 2007) emerges as the book’s hero and conscious (and provided the title). Friedman spares no one, not even himself. In the book’s funniest chapter “Mr. Nobody” he recalls the trials and tribulations of being Ronnie Spector’s boyfriend in the mid-1980’s. I quote: “I am what some in the business refer to as a “ponce”. That is, I’m the emasculated man behind a famous female, from whom I derive my sense of self-worth, and from whose stardom I live through”. Honest enough for you? This is a must read.
I possess (on the hardrive of this very computer) another, as yet unpublished, book by Mr. Friedman, called I think Black Cracker which concerns being the last of two white students left at a pre-integration Long Island high school. It’s a hoot, I’m tellin’ you.  I hope there is at least publisher left with enough balls to put it out. It’s a masterpiece.  

The above photo is me and Philippe Marcade at the Please Kill Me book release party, 1996.

%d bloggers like this: