All photos by Lou Montesano
If you lived in New York in the 1970s and preferred Soho Weekly News over the Village Voice when searching for what was happening musically, you likely found yourself hanging out at CBGB, Tier 3, the Pyramid Club and other downtown punkateria, witness to the sounds and energy of a musical scene unlike anything you had theretofore experienced. The bands of that time and place who endure in terms of influence if not fact — the Ramones, Patti Smith Group, Television, Blondie, Dictators, Talking Heads, New York Dolls, Heartbreakers, Contortions, Bongos, Feelies, Richard Hell and the Voidoids to name just a dozen — have had their stories chronicled in books (most notably Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain’s Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk) and films (Tom O’Dell’s Punk Revolution NYC) as well as more recent fictionalized accounts like HBO’s Vinyl.
Ivan Julian was a founding presence of that scene as one of the guitarists — the other being the late Robert Quine — in the first edition of the Voidoids. The announcement that Julian is battling cancer and the medical expenses associated with it brought together his musical friends from those heady times and stoked that downtown spirit back to life at City Winery. Far from a morbid occasion, the evening, dubbed “Heart On Fire,” became a celebration that recalled just how smart, fun, funny and artful the NYC punk scene could be in the hands of its originators.
Debbie Harry played the vampy emcee, introducing friends and musical colleagues with wit and affection while refusing to perform despite frequent entreaties. The just-rehearsed house band featured ex-Bongo James Mastro, now a member of Ian Hunter’s Rant Band, on guitar and mandolin, along with ex-Television and Blondie bass man Fred Smith.
Lenny Kaye, the reed-thin anchor of the Patti Smith Group, kicked things off with “Build Me Up Buttercup,” the ‘60s pop tune by the Foundations that Kaye dedicated to Julian for being a “foundation of the New York rock scene.” Former head Bongo Richard Barone was next, buoyant and in fine mood and even finer voice.
One of the many musical revelations of the evening was the reconstituted Bush Tetras. Still led by the exciting No Wave guitar of Pat Place and the cow bell of vocalist Cynthia Sley, the band moved with easy assurance and fresh nuance through songs conceived before the Reagan years.
Garland Jeffreys delivered “Wild in the Streets,” his mid-70s FM radio anthem that somehow never sounds dated, then dedicated “I’m Waiting for My Man” to his college classmate and punk godfather, the late Lou Reed, and Reed’s wife, Laurie Anderson. Ever a “boy with perpetual nervousness,” Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan wasted no time raising the intensity and setting the stage for long-time house-wrecker Willie Nile. Joined on drums by Steve Goulding of the Rumour, Nile tore it up with his incendiary sound and showmanship.
The great septuagenarian Ian Hunter is a welcome addition to any musical event, hitting home with his New York anthem “Central Park and West.” Moving from Manhattan to the Bronx, the legendary bar owner, satellite radio host and all-around “handsome” Dick Manitoba and his Dictators NYC stomped out a home-grown tune before jumping headlong into a driving cover of MC5’s “Kick Out the Jams.”
Downtown fixture Vernon Reid of Living Colour and Black Rock Coalition, abetted by Burnt Sugar, a nine-piece ensemble of rhythm, horns and funk, shifted the vibe with heartfelt tributes to Prince (“When Doves Cry”) and David Bowie (“Rebel Rebel” and “Let’s Dance”).
And at the end, there was Richard Hell himself, now the writer better known as Richard Meyers, reaching back almost to the very beginning and closing the show with an incantatory “Blank Generation” while ripping off his raincoat and jacket, crawling on his knees, pogoing and displaying the dangling scarecrow moves Malcolm McLaren would teach protégé John Lydon in becoming Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols.
With the full cast back on stage for an encore, the crowd stood and sang along to “Purple Rain” before Ivan Julian appeared, clearly moved by the outpouring of sound and feeling. Accompanied by his wife Sam, son Austin and even his oncologist, Julian’s tenderness made it clear why so many people love him so much. The May 4th show reviewed here quickly sold out and a second show was added for May 7th, raising even more money for Ivan’s ongoing treatment. To contribute to the Ivan Julian Fund, go to www.gofundme.com/IvanJulianFund.
– Peter Jurew