There must have been something in the water in Cleveland back in the ’70s, spawning such an unlikely midwestern punk stronghold.
Three Cleveland punk alum rolled into the MarketPlace Gallery in Albany on Wednesday evening. But times have changed. They weren’t there to rock, despite the drum kit and amplifiers that were all set up behind them. Instead, they were there to read.
Cheetah Chrome (of the Dead Boys), Mike Hudson (of the Pagans) and Bob Pfeifer (of Human Switchboard) were on tour in support of their latest books, and they drew a modest crowd for the free reading. In typical rock ‘n’ roll fashion, things got off to a late start. Scheduled to begin at 7pm, nobody even started setting up the PA system ’til 7:45. And in typical punk fashion, the readings seemed almost as short as the blitzkreig two-minute songs that the bands used to spit out.
Pfeifer was up first, the only one of the three who bothered to get out of his wooden folding chair and address the crowd from a standing position. He read a couple of excerpts from his recent novel, “University of Strangers,” an intriguing oral-history blend of fact and fiction based on the Amanda Knox trial. The selections featured a number of prominent f-bombs, and after noticing Howe Glassman and his two young children in the crowd, Pfeifer apologized and tried – not altogether successfully – to read a more family friendly version of the passages.
Hudson, whose autobiographical “Diary of a Punk” is a hoot – read instead from “Jetsam,” a collection of shorter pieces. He selected “All the Wrong People Are Dying,” about the death of his younger brother, but also referencing Johnny Thunders, Stiv Bators and others. It’s just a three-page piece, but Hudson was clearly emotionally invested in it, and he got to the heart of the punk spirit at the end… throwing the book on the floor and reciting from memory the closing lines: “So what? At work, thirty people a day tell me what they think is important. But now I know what is important. Nothing. Nothing is important.” Then he tossed the microphone to the floor for punctuation.
The consummate professional, Chrome played to the crowd by reading an excerpt from his memoir “A Dead Boy’s Tale,” that started with the Dead Boys’ show at the Hulla-Balloo in Rennselaer in 1978. He pretty much nailed it, rattling off details about the day spent at the Holiday Inn lounge and Tanya, the leopard of the now long-defunct nightspot. (Although, really, a leopard in the office of a nightclub has got to be rather memorable, right?) “I was shit-faced by the time we played our first set,” he recalled, a line that certainly would have evoked cheers if the crowd had been a little larger (or if more than only a handful in attendance were old enough to have actually been at the gig).
Moderator Keri Kresler floated a few questions in an attempt to get a discussion going. Hudson let the cat out of the bag, informing the folks that it was Pfeifer’s birthday, resulting in the requisite gang sing-along of “Happy Birthday.” And the discussion was opened to the crowd with a Q&A that resulted in mostly predictable questions such as, “What is your favorite song of your band?” and “What do you like better: playing music or writing?”
Hudson, who had been obsessively fingering an unlit cigarette throughout most of the Q&A, finally stood up, declared that the evening’s festivities were over, and headed out to the fire escape to light up. From start to finish, the “evening” was 45 minutes long.
I headed out to my car in the parking lot feeling kinda disappointed. I put the key in the ignition, and “Babe” by Styx came blaring out of the speakers.
Immediately, I was forced to reassess my opinion. And thank God for the punks…
Photographs by Samson Contompasis. You can see more photos from this evening here.