Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Club NOT to Play: Great Gildersleeves

Text (c) Robert Barry Francos
Images from the Internet


There was a club on the Bowery, just one block north from CBGB, called Great Gildersleeves. It was a miserable hole with no atmosphere that did not feel like any other club at the time: it felt like jocks, frats and yuppies, and just stank of poseurs. Everyone with whom I hung out felt the same way. There was just something tainted with the place, so it was very rare we went there, even though they occasionally had some major shows, including Husker Du and PiL. There weren't many places to do a show around, so a band would play where it could, but it would be like seeing your favorite uncle in a hospice.

The last time was to see the Marbles play. I arrived early with two friends, and after having our hands stamped and sitting for a while, we were feeling uncomfortable being in the place, the hairs on the backs of our necks standing on end. Also, we were a bit peckish. The prices at this club were prohibitively high for the quality (fried and greasy) and quantity of their food.

The place wasn’t crowded, so we decided to go to the 24-hour deli across Bowery and grab some quick munchies. I bought a small Manhattan Special Espresso Coffee Soda (sheer ambrosia) and a couple of small 25-cent bags of Wise chips (gotta be Wise brand if you wanna dance with me), and my companions bought small stuff as well. I finished one bag and the bottle and put the other bag in my pocket, while they finished their supply, and we headed back across the street to the club.

The bouncer was standing by the door with one of the higher ups of the joint. As we were walking back in, flashing our inked hands, the bouncer stopped us and demanded (with a wink of the eye to the other guy) to know if we were trying to sneak in any food. We said no, and he started roughly going through our pockets. Before I could say anything, he pulled out the bag of chips and yelled at me, “What the fuck is this?” I said sincerely, “It’s a 25-cent bag of chips, that’s not food.” The bouncer screamed into my face from about 3 inches, “We sell chips in here!” while the other guy was laughing. I said, “I’m a student without a job and I can’t afford the chips here; besides, it’s just a 25-cent bag. It’s not like I’m bringing in a large bag.”

With that, he grabbed me – all 115 lbs. of me vs. his 200+ lbs. – by the throat, and started choking me. He was big enough that I couldn’t really reach him with my hands, and not being a fighter of any worth, I probably wouldn’t know what to do anyway. Besides, I was scared shitless. He believed he had all the power, and in that moment, physically anyway, he did.

When he got bored and realized that I didn’t prove to be a challenge, he let me go with a push. Through my sore vocal chords and Adam’s apple, with a croaking voice, I demanded our money back. The other guy went into the club, and when he came back with some ham-fisted crumpled bills, he threw our money on the floor by my feet.

They had won that round, but I was not done. I would never walk back into that club. I thought about blasting them in an article in FFanzeen, but had second thoughts: why give them the publicity? Instead, I relied on Oscar Wilde’s bon mot, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about,” and I refused to ever mention the club again in my mag. Even when brought up by other writers or artists, I would change the name of the place to the non-descript “a club.” I always explained to the writer what I was doing and why, and no one ever complained. Not that there were many people writing about the little shithole.

Gildersleeves closed (which is why I’m even mentioning it now) and, after a while, became a homeless shelter. At least it became something useful.

43 comments:

  1. What a shitty story. I don't remember bouncers, but girls always get away with much more than guys can.. Gildersleeves was really more like a LI or NJ club than a city club. I was there the night The Brats played and there was a huge fire because some stupid with a flaregun, oh wait that was another story... some stupid with a cigarette flicked it into the flash pots on the stage. People were literally on fire running around the place. It was a nightmare..

    Another club that was a bit off the radar path was Copperfields on 8th street. Much more of a cabaret feel.

    Do you have any photos from either of these places by chance?

    ReplyDelete
  2. The incident with the bouncer/doorman was before I got my camera in May 1977 (I remember because it was for my B-Day), and I never went back, so no, no pictures of Gildershits.

    As for Copperfields, I was there twice, but I only remember one specific show: Crayola opening for the Fast. I don't have any pix of it, though, because we were sitting way in the back, and I didn't have a flash so I didn't bother trying. However, it was on my way back to the subway after that Copperfields show that I saw Sid V. kicking some derilict on the sidewalk on 8th St, between Bleecker & 6th Ave.

    ReplyDelete
  3. What a cocksucker! And you described that dump perfectly, it should've been in Hauppauge, or some
    other godforsaken place. I never even tried to go in there, it was so repulsive. That's great that you never mentioned them in print.
    Not worthy!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I was only in there two or three times, but I went where my favorite bands were playing until this happened. One time I went there to meet the Diodes, from Toronto, and had to sit through an entire soundcheck of the godawful Uncle Son only to find out that they were stuck in a snowstorm upstate and not showing (Uncle Son's manager invited me to stay since the place was so empty, and I said no way. So I walked out, went into CBGB's and saw the Blessed, with Walter Lure back then. And speaking of Walter, it was when I published a gynormous two-part interview with him in FFanzeen that I took out the name of the place and referred to it as "a club". Avoiding the name of the place wasn't that hard, since no one really brought it up much, because it was such a dillweed hole. And both you and Sukie310 got it right, that it was more of a Long Island or New Jersey club (Maxwell's is the exception, of course).

    ReplyDelete
  5. I'm just about 50 now, so when my original band, The Tangles, played Guildersleever, it musta been about 1980. Despite the obvious Bowery associations, I remember some good things; my band's gigs there. More importantly, the terricific talents we had followed, Bonnie Parker band, Wowii, Mink DeVille, etc (maybe even early Cheap Trick, although that was more likely CBGB). Another fond memory was the gas station immediately north or the club, on the same side (east) of Bowery. The pumps had been inexplicably left on,long after the station was closed. At 3 am I filled my '74 Monte Carlo gratis, and headed back to NJ. Not bad after a long night at the Cafe Des Artistes.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Well, as much as I did not like the place on any level, I also appreciate those who did have a positive experience there. Sorry I never got to see your band, though.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Even if Gilersleeves sucked... I still need a picture of it. I'm working on a documentary about The Replacements and it would be a huuuge help to the project. If any of you have, or know someone who might have a photo of the place and would be willing to speak further about it please let me know. Email me at kwdickey@gmail.com also check out www.Colormeobsessed.com

    ReplyDelete
  8. I remember going to see The Brats at Gildersleeves in '76 or '77 i think.Their drummer collapsed during the first few minutes of their show that night.They were opening for Starz and the show was postponed.I hadn't thought about this in years but yes i clearly remember Gildersleeves being kinda sleazy to put it mildly.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I was at one of those shows at Gildersleeves, and I'm sure it was in '78. It was the only time I went to this place and yes, I remember the crowd being pretty straight-laced yuppi-ish and the place was small but comfortable. I sat at the bar which was close to the stage. The show was pretty good, without a hitch, which leads me to believe that previous comments about the drummer collapsing and the show being cancelled happened at another gig. The Brats opened the show and threw out play money with their pictures on the front and an illustration of Madison Square Garden on the back with the caption "Madison Square Garden or Bust." The best part was when Starz later played a number called 'Outfit" and a fine limber female got on stage and danced doing splits and back bending (she must have been a gymnast). It was a good show.

    ReplyDelete
  10. My only fond memories of that place was seeing Johnny Thunders playing there !!!

    ReplyDelete
  11. I remember seeing the Ramones there. Another club nearby was The Ritz. I saw a group called Blue Angel, with a lead singer named Cyndi Lauper.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Yuppi-ish? You tards have got to be kidding? Too funny for words as expressed by the talentless hack writer and his ilk...

    ReplyDelete
  13. To Anonymous: Chickenshit. That's what I call anonymous writers who attack others, but are too scared to used their names. So, Chickenshit, you are exactly the type of person who I was describing as the place being directed. Were you also the chickenshit who put their hands around my neck? Are you the chickenshit who came over to have fun by tormenting others, and then becoming Mr. Chickenshit Anonymous. You don't have my respect, but you have my pity, Chickenshit, because you are that much less of a man.

    ReplyDelete
  14. To Lee: Unfortunately I never had the opportunity to see Blue Angel, but their album is by far my favorite Cyndi stuff she's produced. She had/has a great voice which was best suited (in my humble opinion) in the pop rock medium. Just watch her live video for "Money Changes Everything" to see just how powerful she could be, as opposed to the overproduced/overplayed pure-pop "Girls Just Wanna Have Fu-un" (written by Robert Hazzard, by the way, not Cyndi).

    ReplyDelete
  15. Robert I am sorry that you had a terrible experience at my club. If I had known about it at the time I would have apologised and tried to make it right. The clientele varied on a night to night basis at Great Gildersleeves. I had many different types of groups and music at Gildersleeves. I booked mostly hard rock bands but I also booked Punk bands, blues, jazz and even some country bands. I also booked a band named the Widespread Depression Orchestra, which played big band and swing music from the forties. These bands brought in fans that reflected their music and attitudes. And yes there were yuppies, frats and jocks on some nights. There were also punks, country, and even some old folk on other nights. I tried to mix the music and bands up so Gildersleeves didn't get labeled. In N.Y.C. that is almost an impossibility. As far as Gildersleeves closing, this was because of a long running law suit with the City of New York over eminent domain. This law suit I eventually won and moved to Florida. This fall there is going to be a Great Gildersleeves reuion with all proceeds going to Saint Judes children hospital, as this is my favorite charity. I hope you will come so I can apoligise to you in person. timfinnegan69@yahoo.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Tim,
      You booked my band Phantom there on Aug. 10 1982. I wish I could say I remember the exact date but I just came across some old band flyers of the day. We were supporting an album we had put out earlier that year. Other than having to step over a couple of passed out wino's on the way in, the evening turned out terrific. I don't recall anything unusual about the venue. It was a typical Rock and Roll club with all the atmosphere you should expect. We played at better joints and we played at worse. Your's was just fine with us.
      We had come from a club called RT Fireflys earlier that evening which was a mis book on our managements part....we were a rock band booked into a Punk club....that didn't go over that well....I was happy to be at your place and in the RIGHT (our)enviornment...Thanks for having us....Kenny Collins, Phantom.

      Delete
    2. You get what you deserve if you live in NYC or anywhere trying to sneak food into a club that sells food. I played there and had a terrific show; everyone has opinions, like we all have assholes

      Delete
  16. Hey, Tim, I really, truly, appreciate the offer of an apology, and thanks for that, but I won't be there. For the charity's sake, I hope the reunion goes well. That being said, as I had no positive experience there, and hence no feeling of camaradiere in any sense of the word (unlike some indie rock and metal bands that have playe there), I'll be among the missing. Feel free to reply on how the show went / the charity did, because I do want something positive to come out of the club's contribution here.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hurricane Sandy cancelled the reunion. It was never rescheduled.

      Delete
  17. I began poking around the internet looking for Great Gildersleeves. I had never heard of it the first time I went there. We were hanging out at CB's and Grass Roots Tavern on St. Marks, living on E 10th. To this day I am slightly embarrassed to mention that I even went there. Silly and lame group mentality, I admit. Unless you were on the scene back then, you would have never heard of it. After going there, I quickly learned, it was better not to mention that I had even set foot in there. If memory serves me correctly I don't think I ever went back.
    All that being said the reason that this place has meaning for me is that it is where my husband and I met back in 1978. He was a roadie for the Cryers who were playing there. My friend and her boyfriend wanted to know if I wanted to go out with them. None of us had any money, and they could get me on the guest list so I said I'd go. Turns out my future husband put my name on the guest list since he was the only one connected to the band who had any spots left. We were checking each other out when I walked in, and the rest is history. We will be married 33 years next week. He has been seriously ill recently but is on the mend. We are both keenly aware of the preciousness of life. Our daughter who lives out in LA is getting married in the fall in NYC, and I find myself reflecting back to our beginnings. Seems not that long ago, and all in all it was a great time to live in NYC and be a part of experiencing the music and bands that were around. Regardless of it's reputation, and individual perspectives, it gave us all another opportunity to hear and be a part of the music back then, and a venue for the bands to play. Wondering if the reunion will happen.....would like to know.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Robert Barry Francos. You are funny. Try standup comedy...

    ReplyDelete
  19. Again with the anonymous. Be a person, and put a name on it. I am out there with my experience, and you cower behind anonymity. See the Chickenshit response I gave above, and extrapolate. And, to be clear, I was not trying to be funny. Having some macho moron doorshitheadbouncer wrap his hand around my throat for a 25c bag of potato chips is not funny. Having my money thrown to my feet so I had to bend down in front of those clown who could have easily kicked me is not funny. Having cowards respond with anonymous comments is not funny. It is pathetic. I may have lost that particular battle, but you are a loser. Make that Loser with a capital L. Now go off and flame someone else.

    ReplyDelete
  20. You are all a bunch of fools. Gildersleeves was a club that held close to 900 hundred people. I played there many times with Perfect Stranger, LeMans. Masterpiece and the Jon Montgomery Group. Tim was always a great guy and fair to the many bands that played there. CBGB'S was for Punk bands with there three fuckin chords. To all of you who remember Gildersleaves, you probably drew 3 people. To the rest of us pros, we loved the club, but wee drew 900 people!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey Jon, I truly am glad you had a better experience at GG than (a) I did, and (b) you did in English class. The fact that I don't remember any of your bands may say something, but I'll get past that. Let me state, right here, a thank you for writing as yourself rather than as "Anonymous," I respect your for that. And yes, many bands, even the "three chord" ones played there (I remember going to see the Diodes play at GG, but they were snowed in at Toronto, so I left rather than see the boring Uncle Son again). Generally speaking, the bands that tended to play at GG were rockers, who I did find terribly whatever. But more, as I said in the article, there was a "vibe" in GG that many of us felt as soon as we walked into the place. It doesn't matter how many it fit (900? Really? That doesn't make sense to me, considering the size of the place, which was smaller than the Bottom Line), it was quality rather than quantity. Many of the bands who played there were the Coventry type, which held no interest to me. And the punk bands were not all 3-chords. The Marbles (who also played at GG, BTW) were advanced power pop with Howard Bowler's amazing guitarwork. To put it in another perspective, GG was the jocks, where the CBs crowd were the geeks and stoner outcasts. Oil and water, my friend, oil and water. Lastly, considering what your bands have achieved in the larger perspective (yes, you say you drew 900 people, but where are you now?), what do you have to contribute to what I am saying here rather than being outraged about something that really has nothing to do with you (i.e., it is not your club)? As much as I attended Max's and CBs, I do not defend them to those who did not like the places, as that is their opinion. Capice?

      Delete
  21. Robert Barry Francos, Cyndi Lauper didn't write Money Changes Everything. It was originally done by a Georgia band called the Brains. A guy named Tim Gray wrote this great song.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Hey Anonymous, yes, I know Cyndi Lauper did not WRITE "Money Changes Anything" any more than she wrote "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" (Robert Hazard, and I did not have to look that up). I was making a point about her singing of the song, and never stated she wrote it. In fact, in another blog, http://ffanzeen.blogspot.ca/2008/12/reflections-of-out-magazines-100.html, I mention the Brains (this is nearly a year before the Gildersleeves article). And, in fact, FFanzeen (print version) released a review of the Brains LP in 1980, four years before Lauper's came out. No need to get snippy, nor to make assumptions. 8)

    ReplyDelete
  23. I had gone to GG on a few occasions. Most of the time was to see Moonbeam who at the time bought a PA system from Quantum Audio where I worked. I also worked at the NY Academy of Music/palladium. I would often come down on Friday nights if we had the same band booked for 2 nights which meant no load out. I had great times there met some hot girls and it helped that I had the power to get them in to the Academy. I also knew Hilly from CBGB's even before it became that. Those were great days for me and many others. To bad that it's all gone. Those were the days my friend we thought they'd never end
    We'd sing and dance forever and a day
    We'd live the life we choose
    We'd fight and never lose
    Those were the days, oh yes those were the days

    ReplyDelete
  24. Mr. Robert Barry Francos. This is djmattn a.k.a Anonymous, chickenshit, or whatever noun you can come up with. I`m sure your so-called bad episode at the club was a made-up tale that only got embellished through the years. Your fanzine went bust, and obviously N.J was a tad too much for you. Of course the city was out of your league. Hence your exile up in the Great North and your overwhelming taste in music. Now go write a best seller you hack....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, how you make me laugh. I appreciate you being halfway forward on who you are, though it's still a user name, not yours, "DJMattn". I'm assuming it's DJ Matt N. Sure, that's clear on who you are, hahahaha. Okay, now I would like to answer some of your assertions. First, I was not alone when this happened, there were three of us, so I had witnesses who verified it. Second, I wrote down the incident that night, so there is no "telephoning" embellishment. My fanzine did not make money, but I never intended it to be that way. If you check out issues, it was almost completely ad free by choice. I didn't want to be beholden to any company. I made most of the money back, however, as tax loss. It was a labor of love, not profit. Besides, I received thousands of recordings, got into hundreds of shows, which saved me a ton of $$, so it all depends on how you mark "success." It afforded me to hang out with some of my favorite bands, like the Ramones, more than once. There is no monetary profit it that, but the experience was well worth it. I have never lived in New Jersey. I have written for Jersey Beat fanzine, but that's as close as it got. Note that some great punkers came/come from Jersey, such as the great Jim Testa, so even if I had come from NJ, that would not prove anything in your argument except make you look foolish, actually. I did live on Elizabeth Street during some of this, essentially a block away from CB's (and the crappy Gildersleeves), so your point is kinda moot. Moving to Saskatoon was certainly not exile, hahaha (I'm laughing at you, not with you). I made a choice to move where my partner found employment, and have been having a blast since (2009), getting into the music scene here. Like when my paper folded in 1988, which was a choice not need. I promised myself that when I became bored, I would quit rather than get whiney like the New York Rocker, which outlived its purpose. So you see, all these things you say I was stuck with was actually well timed choices. If that makes me a loser in your eyes, well, time to remove the blinders. I am happy with what I accomplished with FFanzeen. I am happy with what my blog is accomplishing. I am happy with where I am in my life. I am happy to continue writing and getting free stuff like music, both live and recorded. I am not bitter like you come across. If that's what success means to you, well, again, the blinders comment. Greensleeves was a rock shithole, that some people loved, some hated. I was there a total of about 6 times, and I enjoyed the shows I saw, but did not like the venue in which it was presented, and certainly not the Neanderthals that were its face, as it were. Preserve your memories, they're all that's left you.

      Delete
    2. At least they supported local bands and that's what counts

      Delete
  25. My sincere apologies. I didn't realize I was jousting with a comic con, horror, pseudo music geek. I understand and I forgive you.. Keep plugging away.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Thank you for your permission... oh, wait, I don't need it, do I, nor your condescending attitude. Also, I will not apologize for the fact that I have more than one interest (though thanks for checking out some of my blog). And what makes me a "pseudo" music geek? I proudly belong to the Blank Generation. My tastes are not as bland and single minded as yours appear to be, and I put myself out there in my blog every day in detail. Where are you, hiding in your mommy's basement, afraid to let anyone know who you are other than a user name? You aren't jousting with me, because it takes two to have weapons, and you keep showing that your only one is to flame, with nothing backing it. You have made no claim, no proof, and no substance. You are, in fact, starting to bore the fuck out of me. If you had an argument, I would be gainfully exchanging with you, but you are as limp as... well, if you can assume, so can I. In fact, since I do have this power, I am cutting you off. This is it, dooood (I want you to hear this at your level). You have contributed absolutely nothing but wind without any solid basis. If you send any more comments, they will just be like the farts in the wind your response have been. Have a great life, dooooood.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You have such a way with words ! Its funny because i eas watching the movie CBGB starring Alan Rickman as Hilly Kristal ! I went to Gildersleeves a few times as a young teen with $2.00 in my pocket! My friend and i usually got in free to see a band called The Brats . I think its horrible how that guy treated you , That creep should have been arrested ! Thanks for your interesting column ! You're a great writer .Do you still write in magazines or any books about your experiences?

      Delete
  27. i saw a lot of great bands at gildersleeves; i ignored the surroundings and the people; i didn't go there to drink or eat; i went to hear music.
    it was a place to go besides max's or cbgb's or copperfields. another great venue was the mercer arts center. if some people called this place sleazy, did they ever venture into cbgb's?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I went to many of the punk shows at GG between April and June of '83: Circle Jerks, Beastie Boys, The Blessed, DOA, Minor Threat, Misfits, The Abused, etc. All great. The club did not have the easy sleazy feel of CBs or A7, but I am grateful to have seen all those amazing bands during that brief period.

      Delete
  28. Robert Barry Francos seems to be quite the tool

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Pretty brave statement for a coward who won't use his/her name. You may not agree with me but at least you know who I am

      Delete
  29. Sad to say that Gildersleeves is the ONLY New York club I ever went to (aside from a 2001 visit to Beauty Bar for a book release party). I happened to be in the NYC area (a relative rarity) when The Flashcubes played at Gildersleeves one night in Spring of '79. I wish I had a first-hand memory of CBGB's or Max's, but I never had that opportunity, dammit. All I have is Gildersleeves. (On the plus side, The Flashcubes' set that night was killer, and I bought the band's second single at the club that night. But the other band on the bill--Mushroom--was not my cuppa, and my girl and I were amused to watch a couple repeatedly trying to sneak into the restroom to engage in the illicit activity of their choice. Youth....

    ReplyDelete
  30. RBF, thank you for sharing you experience with us. The way I remember it, GG was a better club to play at than CBGB in 1981 and 1982. It had more than one dressing room, there was room to move on the stage and the acoustics were good. It was clean (compared with CBGB). The club held a lot of people and the crowds varied with the bands who drew them. Having said that, I do believe a bouncer roughed you up. I recall a lot of biker guys hanging out there and the door was usually staffed by a thug or a bully. We usually got there before the club was open and typically didn't have to deal with doormen or bartenders. I remember one time where we went on last (which almost never happened) and I stepped out to get some coffee with one of my mates at a nearby diner. When we tried to get back in the doorman was insisting we pay the cover and wouldn't believe we were with the band. I recall him being very aggressive and inappropriate. Nevertheless, to me, GG was part of the scene and should be remembered as a place which supported a variety of bands and gave a lot of young musicians a chance to play. In fact they treated the bands better than most of the clubs I dealt with back then. Thanks again! :)

    ReplyDelete
  31. I was there once in the late '70s or right after, can't recall who I was seeing... it had a little less 'cachet' with my art school crowd than some of the other venues, but I remember it as more spacious and a bit less grimy than the ones I tended to frequent, and that was kind of nice. The crowd did seem a bit more NJ than Manhattan. Wish I could remember who I was there to see...

    ReplyDelete
  32. The place was a class act I was the DJ there on and off for many years and I am StevenMeinster

    ReplyDelete
  33. The great gildersleeves was one off the best clubs in NY . THEY SUPPORTED LOCAL ROCK BANDS .WHAT ELSE CAN YOU ASK FOR AND MANY WENT ON TO BE BIG ACTS.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey, Steven. Glad you liked it and am happy you had some good moments there, and I will not deny anyone a grand experience. That does not change that it was a "rock" club that looked down on many punk fans, though would take their money at the door (when not throwing it back at our feet). 8)

      Delete