Copyright 2000 by John Trivisonno
Early Thursday morning... our bags are packed, we load up the car and make our way south to the border and onto Interstate 87 (we being me, John Trivisonno, long-time Ridgway fan, and my wife, Betty, who over the years has also grown to know and love Stan's music... and to tolerate my obsession with it all).
We are making this drive even though the last time we drove to New York, we got stuck in traffic for two hours just trying to get into the city... even though I swore I'd never come down here by car again... we are making this drive for Stan. Things go relatively easy this time: I-87 to the Palisades Parkway to the George Washington Bridge to the Hudson River Parkway to 96th street to Riverside Drive to our hotel on 80th. Six and a half hours. We check in, park the car, get organized, and then head out for some Chinese food and the first of Stan's shows.
Makor, billed as New York's newest center for culture. Nice place. They don't give us actual tickets to the show but something like pink hospital wrist bands to wear. The doors aren't open yet but we can sit in the almost-deserted bar and, over the music coming through the speakers, listen to Stan and the band doing what I guess is either a sound check or a rehearsal for their Kurt Weill tribute gig taking place on Saturday: we hear The Cannon Song and Mack the Knife. They sound great! The bar only serves beer and wine, so I must forgo my gin and tonic for something called Blackened Voodoo Lager (how appropriate).
The doors open, we get a table right up against the edge of the stage and patiently make it through the opening act, Dimitri Ehrlich (who is actually okay, and whose set seems to be appreciated by those in attendance). I get up to buy a couple of copies of Stan's new Rare Diamonds video (shameless plug) and make my way back to my seat. Finally, it's time for Stan... he makes his way up onto the stage alone. Things go something like this:
Two solo acoustic numbers start things off, with Stan telling a story about each one. Overlords is about the end of Stan's days at Geffen records. Long Arm is about one of Stan's early jobs and how the boss wanted to fire people because their arms were too short to get the work done! Both songs go over really well and turn into audience sing-alongs. The rest of the band slowly make their way onto the stage to join in on Deep Blue Polka Dot and Down The Coast Highway. Stan occasionally needs to consult the lyrics in what he alternately refers to as his Book of Scars or his Analogue Teleprompter. Next comes the audience participation portion of the program: Stan asks for a volunteer to go up and play the wee-ooo-eee-ooo whistle in The Big Heat. The lucky guy turns out to be someone called Lundo, who looks vaguely like Klaus Kinski. Stan says Are you related to Klaus Kinski... I liked that guy. Two quieter songs follow this, Train of Thought and Big Dumb Town. We are told that the club has a 96 decibel limit, so the band can't play too loud. That being said, they break in to Factory, followed by Valerie is Sleeping, and Don't Box Me In, which gets a big reaction from the crowd. Next is another song from the newest record, Picasso's Tear. Man of Stone is then played in a new, jazzier version. More songs from Black Diamond follow: Luther Played Guitar and Gone the Distance. Dave Sutton uses a bow on his stand-up bass for this last song, and Pietra's harmony is just beautiful. Another sing-along kicks in as the band play Camouflage. Then, before winding things down, it's time for the raffle. A spokesmodel from the audience joins Stan on stage to draw coupons out of a box. Three lucky winners get to take home some swag courtesy of Stan, who's feeling like Regis Philbin. Ring of Fire closes the show but Stan comes back for a couple of encores. A Mexican Radio medley is the first, featuring a Jamaican/Reggae version, a Jobim-flavored Brazilian version, and a weird Chinese version, closing off with the version we all know and love. Don, a guy sitting at my table, gets to go up and join in on the chorus, as everyone sings along. Stan gives in to people shouting out requests by closing the show with A Mission in Life...
Post-show, we hang around in the hopes of saying hello to the band. David Sutton makes his way up to the bar and asks me which of the many available beers he should try. I suggest the Voodoo stuff but he passes and makes his own selection. We start up a conversation about touring and travelling. The band has got a long drive ahead of them tomorrow; they're going to Philadelphia and then, they head back to New York on Saturday. I tell Dave about our long drive. He can't believe we came all the way down here to see the show. Two shows, I tell him, we'll be there in Hoboken on Saturday night too. He shakes his head like we're nuts but is very appreciative. Stan makes his way out and is met by a few people who are all anxious to talk. He suggests we sit together, so we gather around the swag table near the bar. I am trying to not make such a big deal out of meeting Stan. When you admire someone's work for so long, there is always a worry that the person behind the work may not live up to your expectations. Thankfully, this is not the case with Stan who, as I expected, turns out to be a helluva nice guy. I introduce myself and thank him for a couple of things he's sent me over the last few years. He says it's a pleasure to meet me in person and we chat a little longer about the tour and the internet and other things. I tell him we'll be at the gig on Saturday as well, and he says to drop by again at the end of the night.
Friday is a non-Stan day. We do a lot of walking around the city. We see a playa musicalwith Christopher Walken(!), get some late-night snacks, and get to bed.
Saturday: more city walking in Little Italy and Soho until it's time to go to Hoboken for Stan's show at Maxwell's. We decide not to show up too early this time because we know the band will be going on later than announced, since they are appearing at the Kurt Weill tribute in Manhattan at 7:00 p.m. We pop out of the Lincoln Tunnel and into New Jersey and a heavy downpour that makes it impossible to tell where we're going, especially since we've never been here before. The rain dies down and we find the club. Dave Sutton, who is chatting with a waitress, greets us at the door and jokingly asks Table for two? The waitress takes it seriously and begins looking for a table. We're just here for the band I tell her, but where are you guys gonna play in a place like this? Dave tells us there is a little band room at the back of the restaurant and we make our way in. We hang around for awhile as the place fills up. Standing only, no tables or chairs. This is going to be very different from the show at Makor. A different kind of crowd, a Jersey kind of crowd... I can feel it. The opening band, TV Sound, begins their set. It's not the kind of music I really listen to anymore. We decide to take a walk outside and, a few doors down, we find the Elks Club, of all things! We pop our heads in for a few minutes. They've got quite a crowd in there and people are karaoke singing to Summer Love from Grease! We make our way back to Maxwell's and into the back room...
Stan's set is shorter tonight than it was at Makor. No solo acoustic numbers (and only two songs that weren't played at Makor: Mama had a Stove and Sixteen Tons, which is the last song of the night and is the louder but less funky than on the record version). Tonight, the band can play louder than 96 decibels and, of course, they do. Stan's toughened it up for the more boisterous Jersey crowd. Right from the beginning, the audience is much more vocal. Sure, there was just as much applause and cheering at Makor but at Maxwell's, these are accompanied by constant shouts of Ridgway rules! and Ridgway kicks ass! between and during each song. The guy who goes up to blow The Big Heat whistle starts a skirmish with another audience member. Stan does his best to calm down the little psycho-drama as he calls it. Three drunk guys standing next to me are the most vocal. A martini makes its way up to Stan on stage and one of the three guys shouts Hey Stan, how's the drink? Later, another of the trio yells Okay Ridgway, let's talk business... The drunkest and most vocal of the three (he apparently is the one who dragged the other two to the show) keeps yelling Mission in Life! Stan fends of these hecklers with a hilarious series of comebacks and insults and finally hands Mr. Mission-in-Life the microphone. He sings to the stunned silence of the audience... he sounds just like a professional wrestler. Stan takes back the mic and says Just as I thought... More songs. More yelling. It's the end of the show but there is no way for the band to get off the small stage, so they go right into the encores. Finally, it's all over. People begin filtering out. The band looks tired. The show was a rough way to end a rough day. We meet up with Dave Sutton again and he asks how it sounded from out there. Good we say, once they got everything straightened out and all the levels set right. Dave says he preferred this to the Makor show, believe it or not. We say goodbye and wish him a good trip back home. We go over to say hi to Stan again. He looks tired but is in a good mood. As we're talking, we hear THE voice singing Mission in Life somewhere in the distance. Stan says Oh, there's that guy again... What can you do, we say, and we all laugh about it. Stan tells us about the Weill tribute, playing to an audience of mostly blue-haired old ladies who considered him to be a member of the new, young generation. I'm 45 years old! Stan says. He did, however, get to meet Kitty Carlisle back stage. She didn't know who I was but she kissed me on the cheek, so we dedicated our set to her. They played The Cannon Song, Mack the Knife and What Keeps Mankind Alive. A short and strange but fun gig. We say our goodbyes and promise to send Stan some pictures. He thanks us again for making the long drive down.
Sunday, we head home. We haven't slept much. The events of the whirlwind weekend are replayed in our heads: Klaus Kinski playing the whistle, Jersey boys wanting to talk business, that damn good food in Little Italy, Christopher Walken singing, Stan's wisecracks, and a lot of great music. We're back home in time for the Oscars but who cares? We sit through some of it with a few friends, spending more time talking about New York and our great weekend than about who deserves an award. We head back home. And as I walk into the bedroom, with the remote control in my hand, I turn off the television and hit the hay.