Maxwell's is intimately connected with my memories of living in Hoboken, NJ in the 1980s, because it was the focal point for the artistic activity of so many people I knew or was getting to know. It was the home base for a thriving local scene and at the same time connected to what was happening in New York and nationally. It felt like a great party there, because you'd always run into friends there, meet their friends and share the joy of being in the middle of something wonderfully fresh and new.
I first noticed Maxwell's when visiting my sister Ann & her then-husband Frank Bosco in1980. They were living in an apartment above Rico's Italian Restaurant on Washington Street. We took a walk and heard rock music coming out of a storefront that had moving blankets covering the windows. Jon Fried (my then boyfriend-now husband) & I were intrigued. We realized in retrospect, one year later, that was Maxwell's.
In the spring of 1981 we moved into an apartment at 711 Willow Avenue where we met a wonderful crew of music loving, hard-partying, artists and writers through our neighbor Kevin Streiter. Tall, handsome, talented and compelling he was a Neal Cassady figure who inspired his many creative friends. He introduced us to so many fascinating people including Tim Daly and Tom McGlynn, the Rogers brothers Mark, Scott and Rich, Jim Ruggia, Jamie Thistlethwaite and David Cogswell. Also in our building was Kevin's girlfriend Cindy Saraga and Laura Kelly. Through them we met Sharon Guynap, Elena Skye, Tina DeVries, Maureen Kennedy, Sheilah Scully and so many more wonderful friends... and everybody loved to go to Maxwell's.. They cared so much about the bands that played there. Their fascination meant something profound and exciting and defining.
The very first time we actually went and heard music there however was before we really knew anybody. Jon & I had walked by and saw people coming out the back door. When that door opened we went in out of curiosity and for the fun of sneaking in. We didn't think that anyone would notice us. After a few times like this, we realized we should come in through the club entrance and pay!
Our first gig there was at a party for the first issue of Fero Botanica Magazine, an amazing art and literary journal created by Mark Rogers and Jim Ruggia. We got up on stage with our brand new drummer Tom Dugan, and no bass player (we hadn't found one yet). We played all our songs, most of which we had written over the past year and tried out busking on the streets of Europe, and some from before, including the song "Cucumbers" from which we took our name.
Our friends went wild and danced up a storm. It didn't take much to get them dancing. Mark Rogers was robust and full of a great life force and would sing his lungs out to "Chain of Fools" and get everyone in a room dancing in a big long chain.
Steve Fallon, the owner of the club, was there, presiding over the room and heard us play "My Boyfriend." He loved the song and gave us our first official gig opening up for Glenn Morrow's band The Individuals. We were so excited. He offered us $150, too!
After the show, Kevin Streiter came up to us and said, "You guys are great! But, do yourselves a favor and don't ever play that song Cucumbers again." We took his advice because we really valued his opinion, and told this story just about every time anyone ever asked us about our band name.
Our Hoboken friends turned out in big numbers for that first "official" show (Jan 82) armed with cucumber slices that they tossed in the air while we were playing. Cindy kept yelling "take off your clothes!" We played our set at hyper speed. We were so elated and thrilled to be there. A few days later we found out that we had received two reviews of our very first show. One was a rave in the brand new, first edition of "Jersey Beat. " The other was a pan in the super-trendy "NY Rocker." Oh, what an introduction to the music business. Steve Fallon told us he loved the band, but asked us to tell our friends to never, ever bring cucumber slices again. "You can't imagine how awful the smell of rotting cucumbers mixed with old beer is," he said. We were launched.
Hoboken was full of music venues besides Maxwell's. There was Court Street, which offered weekly gigs to the more bar-type bands like Cries and Gene The Singing Plumber. The Beat n' Path also booked original bands, but didn't have the same taste and sensibility that Maxwell's did. The Brass Rail featured jazz.
Hoboken is small, and if you met someone at a party, you'd run into them at the Foodtown Supermarket buying groceries or walking down Washington Street, the main drag. We soon got to know so many musicians and their friends, too. We looked up to The Bongos. They were exciting and wonderful and several steps ahead of us experience-wise and so friendly. Jon used to hang out and watch football with drummer Frank Giannini and his friends Jamie Thistlethwaite and John McLure.
We sat in the restaurant one night eating dinner and met Tim Harris and Tara Key who had a band called The Babylon Dance Band and had come up from Louisville, KY for their first gig. We met Myrna Marcarian and Bob Pfeifer from The Human Switchboard there, newly relocated from Ohio, and shared our rehearsal space with them in Jersey City.
Our very first record was "My Boyfriend" on a 33rpm, 4-song 7" that was included in the 3rd issue of Fero Botanica. It also had a song from Gene The Singing Plumber "I'm Losing My Marbles" and songs from two bands we knew from NYC. The cover was a beautiful silk-screened sleeve, made by Tom McGlynn.
Our career took off a little bit and soon we were headlining at Maxwell's and even selling out the club. It was the most exciting feeling ever.
We saw so many great bands there including house favorites The Fleshtones, The Raybeats, The Feelies, The Replacements, Sonic Youth, The Mekons. We missed REM by a hair (I remember Irene Kelly, then-girlfriend of Bongos drummer Frank, saying, "Go see them, their single 'Radio Free Europe' is so great.") It was sold out and that was the last time we could ever hope to see them there.
Dancing to DJ Guy Ewald in between the sets was just as much fun as hearing the bands. He played the best music and made dancing irresistible. Jon remembers he would spin the Talking Heads "Pulled Up" right before we took the stage.
In 1982, we moved around the corner to Willow Terrace. It was a little community all it's own, about 90% born and raised in Hoboken, working class families. We lived in a green house (that was pure coincidence). The unofficial mayor of the block was Pat Freda, a retired longshoreman. He had been an extra in "On the Waterfront." He stood next to Marlon Brando in one of the most dramatic scenes at the end of the film "If Terry don't work, we don't work."
The neighbors were very welcoming, seemed to be proud of us and lovingly called us the "Electric Vegetables."
As we grew older, Maxwell's grew with us. One of my favorite shows ever, was when Over The Moon played a matinee there in 1992. I remember nursing my son Jamie just before we went on and the room filled with all the people who used to come and dance to The Cucumbers, now with kids as well, who were jumping up and down to our kids 'music band which featured Alice Genese (from Gut Bank) and Frank Gianinni (Bongos) and David Cogswell. (In an earlier incarnation the band also included Pete Moser, another great local musician.)
Once we moved out of Hoboken in 1991, Maxwell's still welcomed us with loving arms. In addition to performing there with Over The Moon, The Cucumbers had a residency there, when we were on Zero Hour Records, and a CD release party in 1994.
We continued to perform there up until December 2012. Geri Fallo, Hoboken Cultural Affairs Commissioner, organized Holiday Banding, an annual benefit and wonderful holiday party that would bring together all the local bands, or locally connected ones who could make it. Often, we got to hear Chris Butler (The Waitresses) perform "Christmas Wrapping" which was always the highlight of Holiday Banding. Everyone was so proud that one of our own had an original song in the holiday cannon! He was there this past December. One of the songs we performed that night was "I Can't Believe It's Christmastime" written by Chris Stamey of the dBs (another wonderful band from the heyday) backed up by the current Hoboken House band led by Tom Vincent. I'm so grateful that our last time on the legendary stage was a classic night at Maxwell's, the room filled with old friends and great local musicians.
"On The Waterfront" was made in 1954, 27 years before we arrived in Hoboken. The 80's witnessed a generational shift. Now, 20-30 years past the 80s (depending on where you start counting from) we are witnessing another big one.
All we can do is record our history and accept the passage of time. The closing night July 31, will celebrate the legendary beginning of the club with music by "a" the very first group that played music there, and The Bongos, who evolved out of that group. I hope we can get in!!
Now, onward into the future. Let's make it a good one.