Shake Some Action The Mid-Eighties Garage Punk Scene in NYC

About

WHAT IS SIXTIES GARAGE PUNK? Roughly, the term came to describe the flood of groups that formed in the wake of the Beatles first visit to the US in 1964 and 1965. Consisting of various styles and talents, these mostly teen groups became the first post-war generation to not just have their own style of music, but also have easy access to the ability to create it and even record it. And while that translated into sudden hits for some groups, for the most part the rest labored in obscurity, known only within their local neighborhood or city. All, however, did manage to do something that seemed to have been lost by the time 80s rock rolled around — That was to make music that was simple, honest and full of emotion. Hence the "punk" tag.

In the mid-eighties I frequented a club call The Dive which became ground zero for local New York City groups and fans devoted to this ethos. The proprietor of the club, Glenn Gazin, made an effort to showcase new bands that epitomized this do-it-yourself attitude. On the West Coast a similar movement had also sprung up and was dubbed The Paisley Underground by the music press. No doubt for the proliferation of this attire among enthusiasts. However, this being New York, the local bands here had a decidedly rougher, more urban edge. Yet, even within this small microcosm of a movement, there were even smaller factions. The Mods, the paisley crew, the punkers, the psych bands...all had their adherents. And they all congregated at The Dive.

Surprisingly, despite the different musical ideologies, most groups and fans did overlap. And while there was an aura of exclusivity amongst the various factions, for the most part the one thing everyone agreed upon was that it was "us" against "them" (meaning the general musical climate of the time.)

When the Dive finally shut its doors in 1986, what was once a handful of people had grown into a better-known, yet still intimate scene. Local bookers such as Endsville Enterprises (Deb Parker and Gare Balaban) took up the slack by booking bands in a dilapidated, hardcore rummy bar on W.14th Street in Manhattan called McCarthys. For one day, every other week, the dimly lit back area of the bar became "The Strip" and continued the tradition of booking garage bands. Endsville even expanded it by getting not just East coast groups to play but Midwest ones as well.

While The Strip was in full swing, a party was also occurring at a small jazz/blues bar called Tramps on E.15th street on the other side of the island. After management decided to open up their doors up to rock acts, promoters Ivy and Anne approached them with the idea of creating a monthly theme night. Focusing more on the psychedelic aspects of the genre (they even had light shows) but also booking straight ahead garage as well as mod acts.

Maxwells, in Hoboken was also a stopover for many bands. Booker and sixties garage punk enthusiast Todd Abrahmson always managed to include sixties-inspired garage bands in amongst the A-list alternative talent he was booking for the club. His support also played a key role in keeping the NY/NJ scene afloat.

By the time the early nineties rolled around things started changing in Manhattan. A new mayor strolled into town promising to clean-up the city. Under the banner of Quality of Life infractions, noise ordinances started being enforced, fines for trash, overcrowding and even minor things were being doled out. The overly aggressive character of the fining (a lot of it questionable) made owning a bar a pretty difficult thing. Even cabaret licenses (needed for performing spaces) became almost impossible to get. After the last traces of squatters were evicted, and the worst areas of the Lower East Side were "cleaned up", came the inevitable rent increases. Manhattan venues soon started disappearing at an alarming rate. While some hung on, they were forced to book acts that drew large numbers of people to cover their increased costs. It pretty much spelled the end of the line for the garage scene—in Manhattan.

Sure enough, nothing stays quiet in New York for long. Kids with little to no knowledge of those years, took up root in dilapidated areas of Brooklyn, starting their own groups, supporting their own venues, etc. Essentially restarting the whole cycle again. Although, with a different spin on it.

It is with great affection that I not only dedicate this site to fans of the "glory days" but also to the new generation who took it upon themselves to keep the fires burning. Here's hoping their memories are as good as mine!

Jeff Cuyubamba
New York City
January 15, 2015

In memory of Joey "Psycho" Decurzio, Ellen O'Neill, Bob Chich, Abby Lavine, Gordon Spaeth, Wendy Wild, Wendy Geffin, Fee Haag, Mark Smith, Linda Lutz and Scott "Rudie" Rosinski. All wonderful early supporters who left us too soon.

 

Profile

Jeff Cuyubamba

Hi, my name is Jeff Cuyubamba. And for about a span of about 10 years I kept an archive of the mid-80s sixties garage punk scene in New York City.

I was born in New York and spent my formative years as most teenagers do with the big exception being that my friends and I did it during a very unique time in NYC history. Crime was still a major problem and the city was just starting to recover from a serious fiscal crisis. Yet, even among the worst times, creativity flourished in fashion, design and especially music. The 80s were an especially fertile time as the city still possessed its gritty urban charm after the difficult 70s and just before the divisive 90s.

My first exposure to this world was oddly enough as a college student in the borough of Queens. Soon after Joining my college’s newspaper, my life started changing pretty quickly. Primarily through the influence of the quirky, rabble-rousing music editors, Pat and Rich. When one day I happened to express my interest in the then brand-new group REM, they happily lent me several records that they insisted I listen to. Putting those records on the turntable was truly the start of a musical journey that was to last years.

Within a few months of being “initiated” to underground music, I was seeing bands 4, 5 nights a week. Sometimes twice a night. I loved it all. Punk, hardcore, pop, and this odd thing called “garage” music. While my interest in other genre’s remained, slowly one preference began to stand out more than the others. Garage music, with its swirling, 60s tinged, defiant primal chords and themes began to exert its siren’s song on me.

I wasn’t alone. Soon I found myself running into the same people over and over again at venues such as The Dive, The Strip, CBGB’s, Maxwells, Lismar Lounge, The New Theater, Peppermint Lounge, etc..All of us just reveling in a sound and lifestyle that was strictly “ours”.

Since I was the photo editor of my college paper, I gravitated to taking photos of live gigs. Always with an eye towards preserving this unique experience in some manner. After a few years of photographing on and off I started making sound recordings with a battery-powered cardioid mike that I hooked up to a mono cassette recorder. And of course, there were the flyers. Wherever i went, I grabbed a flyer. Naturally, I soon amassed a large box of them. (In the pre-internet age…this was the only way you’d ever get people to your gig!) While I was proud of my collection, later it became dwarfed by other pals who not only collected more…but set lists as well!

This little site is my way of gathering all my material and presenting it in one unified form. But, I’d also like to make it inclusive as well. If anyone wants to share their work here I’d be more than happy to post it as well. With any luck this database will continue on well after we’re long gone. A small window into what some creative kids with passion and time on their hands can accomplish.



Thoughts? Ideas? Suggestions? Drop me line at: