Segarini: The Art Of Touring 6: Hey! There’s where King Kong bought it….

Part 5 can be found here

I don’t care how many times you have seen it, the sheer size and grandeur of the New York skyline from the George Washington Bridge is jaw dropping at the very least. The first time you see it…well, it is pretty much Christmas, Disneyland, and your first non-solo orgasm all rolled into one…with a touch of Impending Doom.

The trip from Utica to this moment was rife with wrong turns, petty arguments, laughing fits brought on by bad jokes and worse gas, and discussions of World Domination…all typical to your average rock band, and still a great way to pass the time on the road.

So much is learned when you travel in unexplored territory for the first time, it’s always worth the screw ups just to learn what to do the next time you set sail. For example: No roadmap available at a gas station ever calls a highway or main road by the same name as the locals. If you are looking for the Farquar Expressway, know that it is called Highway 285 on your roadmap. If the waitress at the diner tells you that if you want to get back to the highway, then you need to turn right on Pine Road, it will be Evergreen Blvd. on your map. The learned solution? Find a cab, tell him where you want to go, slip him a fin, and follow him to your destination.

These days, those problems don’t exist. GPS, Wi-Fi notebooks, smart phones, etc, you’d have to be a complete Millhouse to get off course, but in 1969-70, you were pretty much at the mercy of a year old Rand McNally, or a local who hadn’t left the area in 25 years.

None of that matters now, however, because we are on the GW Bridge, New York City looming before us, and so excited, the fatigue of being on the road for hours dissipates quickly and is replaced by the kind of anticipation usually reserved for walking out on stage, or finding out your date is drunk and horny.

Not 10 minutes after we leave the bridge and miss the turn to the FDR Expressway, (now the Hudson), we find ourselves on a major surface street heading down into Mid-town, and the decaying neighborhood is a bit unnerving.

On both sides of the wide street, are burned out, totally stripped cars, two deep, the skeletal remains of Chevys and Fords, looking like fossils strewn about by some cataclysmic occurrence, and not the least bit unsettling to the people passing by on the crowded sidewalks.

“Creepy”, someone offers.

“Any bodies?” someone else says, receiving a punch in the arm for his trouble.

Now we have no idea as to what to expect.

As we drive down into Manhattan, New York starts to resemble its television and movie persona. Deep canyons of glass and steel, wide sidewalks filled with well dressed men and women, bustling down the street with purpose and determination. Iconic images towering above us like the top of the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, (which we all agreed should have been called the ‘Entire State Building’), landmark names in neon above doorways on the storefronts, Nathans, Macys, a real live Automat, and an unfamiliar name that caused a great deal of laughter, but eventually became a favourite destination, ‘Chock Full O’ Nuts’, which turned out to be the best coffee in New York.

I have a list from better traveled friends of things to do and places to go in New York. Among them, Ray’s Famous Pizza, The Waldorf Astoria, the Carnegie and Stage Door Deli’s, the Bitter End, Times Square, Greenwich Village, and, from a couple of guys in The Doors and the Byrds, a bar on Bleecker Street in the Village called ‘Nobody’s’.

I rattle off my list in the car, and Frankenheimer says that one of those places won’t be a problem.

“You’re playing the Bitter End”, he says over his shoulder, looking for the street our hotel is on, “tomorrow night”.

Well that was easy…

If it’s good enough for Dylan Thomas, it’s good enough for me…

It took a while, but all of us realized we had been circling the same block for about 10 minutes after John found the street he had been looking for.

Finally, he spots a parking place and spends another 10 minutes working the Vista Cruiser into it without hitting the cars on either end. We applaud.

“Why are we here?” I ask.

“That’s our hotel”, he says, motioning with his head, his hands full of suitcases.

We look up. A sudden, clammy chill settles over us, there on the sidewalk.

“You’re kidding”, we chime in unison, followed by a few random groans. “This can’t be right”.

This is New York, dammit, home of the finest hotels in the world. The Waldorf, the Plaza, the Algonquin, the Essex House. Legendary, timeless, beautiful, FAMOUS, hotels, and after the A-1, we desperately needed to stay in a hotel that didn’t make us feel like we’d lost a bar bet.

“This is an amazing place, steeped in history, and the hippest hotel in the city”, John says, sounding like one of those tour guides you want to strangle in Disneyland on that Adventureland ride…you know, the one with the animatronic hippos, and elephants, and snakes, etc.

To us, it looks like an old brownstone that has seen better days. I’m wondering if there’s a claw foot tub in the kitchen, or if the only bathroom is down the hall. I also realize that maybe we’re not rock stars yet, and this is all the label is willing to pay for until we actually sell some records. Then DeCoq shouts from the top of the stairs.

“Check this out”, he says, pointing to a plaque next to the front door. It says that Dylan Thomas stayed here, and another says that the Chelsea is a registered historic landmark.

“That’s more like it”, I thought.

Over the years, I’ve discovered a lot about the Chelsea. There are more plaques out in front these days, but what has gone on in this hotel over the years is pretty sensational. Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey here. Kerouac wrote On The Road here. If you want to check out more, go here.

We enter the small lobby reluctantly, but that changes almost instantly. There is a neon sculpture in the center of the lobby. There are objects d’ art everywhere, paintings on every wall. I am impressed. While John signs us in, I ask the desk clerk about all the art.

“Most of it is from guests and residents that couldn’t afford to pay their rent or bill”, he confides, “Some of them have gone on to be pretty famous”.

Yeah…there’s got to be several hundred thousand dollars, if not millions, worth of art in the lobby alone.

Fuck the Plaza…this is amazing.

Some highlights of our first stay at the Chelsea:

Making friends with the cockroach that lived in my and Randy’s room. After the initial shock of seeing a bug that big, we got used to him. He’d even open the door for you if you forgot your key.

Breakfast was always fresh squeezed orange juice and a jar of Cara Mia artichoke hearts from the deli-grocer on the corner. Why…because it was cheap and really good.

Beautiful, high end groupies of the arts, writers, musicians, and eccentrics roamed the halls at all hours of the day and night. Some were more famous than the residents.

The night manager took some of us up to the top floor one night and opened the huge apartment there, saying it belonged to Salvador Dali. I don’t think it did, but whoever did own it was one strange duck. It was a jungle of plants, trees, bushes, and ferns. The floor was covered with at least 6 inches of soil…and there were snakes…lots of snakes.

There was an odd little bar adjacent to the lobby with a huge mural of a matador and a bull on one wall. It was dark and intimate, and home of the best martinis I had ever had. They cost a dollar. I watched a couple have sex in one of the booths one night. After they were finished, they bought a round for everyone in the bar and left.

No matter what time of day you entered the lobby, you would see a musician you recognized from TV or magazines. It was weird…and probably why there was no place to sit in the lobby. Otherwise, there would have been a crowd in there at all times.

During our stay at the Chelsea, a guy pulled a knife, (a BIG bowie knife), on our guitar player, over a girl that lived at the hotel.

Jim and I were talking in my room when the door burst open, and a scruffy, long haired guy waving a jaloaner knife shouted, “Which one-a you guys is Jim?”

“I am”, my brave, but stupid friend said without blinking.

“Stay away from my girlfriend, man, or I’ll kill you”, threatens our new pal.

Jim and the girl in question had been hanging out together quite a bit.

The tension in the room rose, the stranger was starting to get red in the face, but Jim remained strangely calm.

“Girlfriend?”, Jim counters. “She dances for coke dealers and turns tricks. She ain’t your girlfriend, if anything, she’s just somebody you sleep with when you’re in New York”.

For some reason, this seemed to rattle the guy. He lowered the knife, said, “Yeah”, kind of sheepishly, and looked up at Jim and said, “Sorry man, tired, been in a fuckin’ Winnebago for 2 fuckin’ days, and ah need some sleep. No hard feelings?”

Jim nods. They shake. Guy leaves. I exhale, and take my first breath since I saw the knife.

“What the fuck, man! What was that all about…and how did you know that guy isn’t from New York?”

“I recognized him”, says DeCoq. “Didn’t you hear his accent?”

Truth be told…all I saw was a knife, and all I heard was my own heart, pounding in my ears.

I said. “So who is he?”

“Duane Allman”, Jim says, “Damn fine guitar player”.

And so he was.

So, where were we…

Oh yeah. We’re finally in New York, getting ready to play the Bitter End, some dates with the Airplane, staying in the city’s hippest hotel, and getting ready to hit the village and check out this bar, Nobody’s, I’ve heard so much about. Life is good.

I’m just getting dressed for a night on the town, when there’s a knock on the door. Randy gets to it before the cockroach and opens it to find Frankenheimer standing in the hall.

“Anybody seen Dennis or Bruce?” asks John.

“Nope, not since we got on the bridge”, Randy and I almost say this in unison.

“Strange…nobody’s seen them”.

“Great”, Another duet.

Just then, in the hallway behind John, the missing Bruce and Dennis suddenly materialize as if by magic. They are both wearing cheese-y souvenir T-shirts, Bruce’s displaying the Statue of Liberty, Dennis’s depicts King Kong atop the Empire State Building.

“Where the fuck have you guys been?” now John, Randy and I are a trio.

“We went to Greenwich Village. Checked it out, went by the Bitter End. Cool club, small, though”, Dennis says. Bruce is white as a sheet.

We relax. They aren’t dead, and everything seems to be fine.

“Did you load the gear into the club?” John asks.

“No”, says Dennis.

“Why not?” asks John.

“We were going to”, stammers Bruce, “but there was a problem”.

” A problem?”

“Yeah”, says Dennis. “Somebody stole the truck”.

Next: The Art Of Touring 7: Dude! Where’s our truck?

Segarini’s column appears here every Monday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

Bob “The Iceman” Segarini was in the bands The Family Tree, Roxy, The Wackers, The Dudes, and The Segarini Band and nominated for a Juno for production in 1978. He also hosted “Late Great Movies” on CITY TV, was a producer of Much Music, and an on-air personality on CHUM FM, Q107, SIRIUS Sat/Rad’s Iceberg 95, (now 85), and now publishes, edits, and writes for DBAWIS, continues to write music, make music, and record.

One Response to “Segarini: The Art Of Touring 6: Hey! There’s where King Kong bought it….”

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