Melody Makers and Shakers
Last Saturday Posie and I traveled down to New Brunswick, New Jersey for the third annual Melody Bar reunion. The Melody, as I’ve noted before at iJamming!, was a remarkable little bar, unassuming from the outside, magical on the inside, which through the 1980s and 1990s was ground zero for a positively flourishing, AngloCentric New Jersey music scene. People lived for the Melody in much the way you’ve heard that they lived for the Hacienda, or Shoom, or the Railway Hotel, or Monroe’s Uptown House, or CBGBs, or the Marquee, or the Mudd Club, or Eel Pie Island, or Washington Square Park (and so on). The impact it made on the lives of its ardent regulars remains evident in the attendance at the reunion parties: several hundred made it to the Elks Lodge this last Saturday, and though the average age of that crowd is now in its forties, with many already into their fifties, it was still a fine-looking group of people (even if I do say so myself), most wearing their advancing years with persistently youthful resistance. And if you think I may be exaggerating the collective fondness for the place, let me share this account, which landed in my Inbox on Tuesday from one Erik Dienemann.
‘I know a lot of people in their 30s and 40s, but I don’t know any other group that has anything even remotely comparable to the shared experience we all had going to the Melody Bar back in the 80s and 90s… Everyone I’ve told about these events is kind of dumbstruck, almost not believing that there are that many people who would travel from all over for the reunion of a “mere bar,” but when I tell them a bit about the Melody and how much fun we all had and how much fun we still have at the reunions, they usually begin to look a bit wistful, wishing that they had someplace that special in their memories, let alone a memory like that that is still alive… Of course, we all wish the Melody had never closed, but to quote a great new song by Los Campesinos!, “absence makes the heart grow fonder – fondness makes the absence longer.” ‘
While I don’t know Erik personally, we have in common that we each met our wives at the Melody dancefloor. Erik snagged his On March 12, 1987, by asking her to dance to Big Audio Dynamite. I snagged mine on February 16, 1990, though I don’t remember what song was playing at the time. (Do you, Posie?) The fact that the Melody reunions have been scheduled for mid-February, the same week as our anniversary, has added extra personal poignancy to the occasions. So did the fact that we stayed this year in the same hotel as when I first hit the Melody – which was not in February 1990 but almost two years earlier, in April 1988, when I was in town with Echo & The Bunnymen. (New Brunswick is the home of Rutgers University, and therefore a massive ‘what-used-to-be-called-alternative-music’ base. The Bunnymen were playing Rutgers that night.) We were booked into the Hyatt Regency that night, but I didn’t see much of the place because, after the show, we were encouraged to go to this little bar on French Street called the Melody. There, while being plied with free drinks – popularity by association – I met Matt Pinfield, the bar’s thrice-weekly DJ who, as well as being a massive Bunnymen fan, had also been a keen reader of Jamming! and a fan of the accompanying record label. At the end of the night, Matt drove Mac and I back to the hotel, and we struck up a lifelong friendship; Pinfield went on from local station WHTG to become a VH1 host and is now found playing “classic modern rock” (as I like to call it) on 101.9. RXP. But those in New Jersey will always know him for those crazy nights at the Melody. Unfortunately, and despite promises otherwise, Matt failed to show for this reunion; he’ll no doubt be happy to know the night was a great success regardless.
I was able to stay at the Hyatt that night in 1988 thanks to a major record company’s publicity budget. We were able to stay there last weekend thanks to the Herculean efforts of the man behind these Melody Reunions, known alternately as Frank Gibson and by his alter ego Stiffy Biceptz, who arranged rooms at the 4-star palace for the knock-down price of just $100. It was strange to be back there 21 years on from such an influential night in my life, now with two kids in tow. (Fortunately, the elder one is old enough to baby-sit the younger one. Unfortunately, the younger one has an inbuilt antenna that goes off whenever we have a late night, prompting him to get up at some ungodly pre-dawn hour about two hours after we’ve gone to sleep.) But this time I actually saw something of the hotel, for after the Elks Lodge had been drunk dry of beer (a quite phenomenal achievement given the number and size of its bars) and turfed everyone out at 1am, Posie and I eschewed an after-party around the corner and hit the hotel bar for a sophisticated late-night drink. In the morning, we looked to the restorative effects of a lengthy dip in the hotel swimming pool and hot tub with the kids. I’m not sure it was entirely effective, but it certainly can’t have harmed.
All in all, our Sunday tiredness aside, it was a wonderful night out, a pleasure to see so many old friends and to hear so much great music twisting my melon, man. Thanks to all the DJs, including occasional iJamming! pubbers Ed Wong and Sean Carolyn, for pounding so many wonderful tunes. Wong has already written an excellent account of the night from the perspective of the DJs, complete with a perfectly recounted Playlist. I’ve put up his post – otherwise restricted to Facebook users – on a separate iJamming! page here so you can read and enjoy. Regulars of either my Communion nights at the Limelight in the early 90s, or Step On at the Royale in Brooklyn this coming decade, will no doubt recognize plenty of the tunes.
In the old days, many Melody regulars played in bands, and I recall putting on a number of them at the Limelight: Room Ten, Rotator Cuff, A Bigger Thomas, the Dandelion Fire and more. Now that we’ve hit middle age, we’ve mostly given up the guitars and drums, but one exception is my good friend Gary Kaplan, formerly with the Dandelion Fire, and whose latest project, The Fletchers, released their debut CD, Bright Blue Lights, late last year.
I’d love to say that Gary named his band after me, but of course there’s a more prosaic story: The group was initially named the Jessica Fletchers for the American TV detective, until he discovered the existence of another band with the same moniker. Kaplan’s willingness to keep making music and putting out CDs is encouraging. After all, we don’t have to have starry-eyed dreams of fame and fortune to make music; the mere process of making it should be enough to satisfy. Bright Blue Lights is a confident guitar-rock album that harks back not only to the British Madchester scene that was so influential on the Melody dancefloor but more, perhaps, towards the early music of America’s own R.E.M. and Husker Dü. The songs are strong, so are the performances. And if they lack that last couple of percent that could take them over the edge, that’s okay too. And so, in the spirit of the Melody reunion, my return to the Hyatt, 19 years of somehow surviving a personal relationship (including 13 of them as parents), and a friend’s band named after my family name, your iJamming! download for the week is Bright Blue Lights’ fourth track, appropriately entitled “One For The Road.” Cheers.
“One For The Road” by The Fletchers