Friday, February 24, 2012
Luna Lounge owner Rob Sacher on Joey Ramone, a new CBGB and what killed the Lower East Side
Rob Sacher, the former co-owner of Luna Lounge on Ludlow Street, has written "Wake Me When It's Over." The book covers his formative years growing up in Brooklyn in the 1960s, his days as a musician and songwriter and time running several clubs, including Mission (1988-1993, where the Ace Bar is now on Fifth Street) and Luna Lounge (which relocated to Williamsburg for a 16-month stint in 2007-2008). Sacher is self-publishing his book through his own DIY imprint and is raising promotion money through Kickstarter. The funding campaign ends on Wednesday. (He already reached his modest goal of $5,000.) The official release date of the book is Thursday.
Sacher talked to us via email about his first musical memories, his friend Joey Ramone and the state of the Lower East Side music scene today.
You were born and raised in Brooklyn. What was your first musical memory? How did that help set the course for your career?
Yes, born and raised in Brooklyn. My first musical memory. Well, that's a bit difficult to say for sure but my mom says that I would raise myself up in my crib at the age of one and rock back and forth to Elvis Presley's "Blue Suede Shoes" every time she played that record. I don't recall doing that but I do remember falling in love with The Shirelles when I heard "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" on the radio. I guess I was about four or five when that song was first played.
However, I had other moments a bit later on when I realized that the joy that music brought me was something that other people also felt. Two moments that are forever part of who I am came first when I was nine and I discovered a group of teenage girls singing in the handball courts near my home, and second, when I first heard an electric 12-string guitar.
Why did you decide to write this book?
I decided to write "Wake Me When It's Over" because that time is now over and is consigned to the pages of indie rock history in New York. There are no other books that have yet been written about the New York music scene that came after CBGBs, and Luna Lounge may possibly have been the most important NY club of its size in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Where else could you have come in off the street and see The Strokes, Elliott Smith, Interpol, Longwave, The National and stellastarr* for free — all possibly in the same week? And, on top of that, you could come by on Monday night and see Marc Maron, Louis C.K. and a dozen other young comedians working out their craft on the Luna Lounge stage? I guess I have a story to tell.
People had mixed reactions when news surfaced of a possible resurrected CBGB. You wrote for PBS, "Don’t burden yourself with a tether to some idea or concept of a bygone age." Do you think the city/Lower East Side will ever have a time and place like that again?
No. The creative people who lived there were allowed to be driven out by real-estate interests and that includes anyone and everyone who stood by and did nothing to stop that from happening. I'm talking about the Community Board, the City Council members who represent lower Manhattan, the developers, the real-estate agents, the landlords, the co-op and condo owners, the mayor, and especially the people who were willing to allow the commercial transformation of this once glorious neighborhood into the cultural travesty it has become so that their apartments would increase in value.
Well, you get what you deserve in this life, I believe. And, because few people were standing up for places like Collective:Unconscious, Tonic, CBGB and Luna Lounge, the Lower East Side must now live with obnoxious bistros that cater to people with little interest or understanding of the former importance of this neighborhood.
Perhaps, it's time for a TAKE BACK THE LOWER EAST SIDE movement. I would love to see that happen. Of course, I can hear the vested interests and the people who live here now who couldn't care less remind me of my recent words, "Don’t burden yourself with a tether to some idea or concept of a bygone age." Of course, the difference between CBGB and Luna Lounge is that Hilly Kristal is dead and I am still around, available, and would love to resurrect Luna Lounge under the right conditions if such conditions could be created.
You and Joey Ramone once talked about opening a club. What did you envision for the venue?
Joey always wanted to open a club and we talked about it on many occasions. He liked a club that I co-owned before Luna Lounge called the Mission. He and I went around the neighborhood in the early 1990s and looked at different possible locations.
Joey's brother, Mickey, is now trying to find a location to open up a club called Joey Ramone Place, and Mickey and I have had long conversations about what Joey would have envisioned for this kind of bar. In the end, it really just has to be Joey in any and every way possible. Joey Ramone was very smart, irreverent, had a great appreciation for the absurd, a great sense of humor, and had awesome taste in music. Any club that either Joey would have opened or Mickey will open will be all of those things all wrapped up in one.
And, by the way, we've been looking at locations for more than year and all we keep hearing is that the Community Board will never support our request for approval of a liquor license because there are too many bars in the neighborhood now.
Can you imagine that? The Lower East Side and the East Village Community Board can tolerate what my grandfather would have called the mishigas and meshugine but have no place for a proven cultural icon like Luna Lounge and a possible club connected to the most important New York rock musician who ever lived — yeah, that's right, the most important New York rock musician ever!
A lot of up-and-coming bands came in and out of your doors at the Luna Lounge, which closed in June 2005 when the landlord sold the building to a developer. Which band made the most immediate impact on you?
That's a tough question to answer because, in so many ways, I feel like so many of those artists were like my children. I never had any of my own so those bands were like my kids. Here's a short list. Of course, The Strokes, Interpol and The National are now three of the biggest bands in the world and those three are, without doubt, the three biggest New York bands of the last decade. All three of these bands did their very first shows at Luna Lounge and I am grateful to have helped in some way to nurture the start of their careers.
Beyond that, I still have a close friendship with Michael Jurin of stellastarr* and Steve Schiltz and Shannon Ferguson of Longwave. I feel like I had a lot of influence in helping both of those bands get started. Steve and I talk all the time and I am so honored to have him in my life. I think Steve Schiltz is the most underrated musician I know. I just love the music he creates. And last, I was fortunate to know the brilliant Elliott Smith for the short time he was with us in New York and the short time that he gave to us on this Earth.
How would you describe the state of the Lower East Side live music scene today?
Bands might come in from Brooklyn and might still play in a handful of clubs that offer sub-par basement spaces or play as one band on a bill of a baker's dozen on any given night but that is hardly an excuse for the idea of a scene.
With the exception of The Living Room, a worthy acoustic room, there is no club on the Lower East Side doing anything of any value in nurturing a scene — how can they with the fratboy, baseball cap, yuppie types that dominate the sidewalks? They are a cancer on any artistic scene on which they come in contact. And, that cancer is what killed the Lower East Side.
You can find an excerpt of the book here.