Vol. II: The Birth Canal

Greasy Lake, 2000, by: David J. Mieras
Where we hear about the early days and the surprising origin of the UPSTAGE Club.
During the early Nineteen Sixties in Asbury Park, music was embedded and the natural path for local talent to check out. Pretty much if you name a well known artist from the turn of the century through the Nineteen Seventies, they played Asbury. Millions of tourist visited the vibrant community which provided beach and night life, from the mundane to the exotic. The year round population was diverse, like the entertainment offered, having large Italian, Russian, Afro, and Greek neighborhoods. Asbury was the commercial hub of historic Monmouth County.<p>

Across Wesley Lake to the south of Asbury was like visiting another planet. The town of Ocean Grove, or Ocean Grave as the local kids called it, defied your sense of space and time. Let me just say that the place "had laws" an ACLU lawyer dreams about. The laws were declared unconstitutional back in the Nineteen Eighties. Can you imagine making every car owner move their vehicles outside the town limits for a twenty four hour period? Chains would be erected across all roads leading in, and armed guards were stationed in little booths. You'd think it would be heaven for children and parents, not having to worry about being in the street and getting run over. Wrong, it was illegal to ride a bike, throw a ball, go on the beach, and a myriad of other strange ordinances. It was torture to us kids. We developed a strong dislike of anything or anyone representing these laws. The world was changing rapidly, and we were stuck in a time warp. We wanted to surf, skateboard and rock. The Methodist owned town of predominantly retired, whites only, resisted change. This made us determined that we would not be held down and excluded from the joy of being an American child, in the dawning of a new age.<p>

A brief, but fateful type of show began in the mid Nineteen Sixties on the shore. If you had a band or wanted to be in one, attending a Battle of the Bands was a must. The majority of the best young musicians from the immediate area took part. In Nineteen Sixty Six, when I was thirteen, a classic battle was held at the Rollerdrome on Rt. 35 up Middletown way. I'd just come back from surfing spring break in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. I happened upon something on the beach that changed my life. Leigh Stephens and his band, Blue Cheer played Summertime Blues and I danced in the sand with some college babes. Instant Karma invaded my bones while I scanned the bikinis and said to myself, this much fun should be illegal. I imported that attitude upon my return to Jersey. When Steel Mill made their first trip to California, the guys saw Blue Cheer rattle the walls @ the Matrix club.<p>

At the Rollerdrome, a large stage was erected on the south center wall above the roller rink, and each band played a few songs to be judged. I found out that night where I wanted to be. Instead of performing on stage, I'd rather be on the dance floor with a fine chick. In the years to follow, I could see band after band, playin' different clubs, on the same night. My musician friend's could not do that. They were either playin' a gig, or jammin' in their basement, garage, or attic. Plus, listening to other bands could mentally screw them up during their shows, I've always been told. In terms of audience attendence, the competition was not successful. None the less, I met a bunch of interesting people, heard some bands with names like Sonny & the Starfires, and caught my first glimpse of a sixteen year old in a band called the Castiles. A far out party followed on a farm and something was born that night, in scattered hearts and souls of a few kids around Jersey.<p>

Back in Asbury, I stopped by my friend Greg's place. Margaret's terrace overlooked the alley behind her beauty salon and Thom McAn shoes. During summer, vines of fragrant flowers, live music, and the flicker of candles after sunset, generated an alluring attraction to the spot. Margaret and Tom were beatniks who exclusively dressed in black. In a crowd you couldn't miss Margaret. She radiated one cool, sexy presence. We all swear Joan Jett took a few pages from Margaret's book. I liked being near her and she didn't seem to mind one bit. To enter her lair, you first had to tackle a long flight of stairs which lead to the door of the beauty salon. Their apartment was situated to the rear of the business. This one day holds a tight rein on my memory, because the significance of the conversation Margaret and I had stuck like glue. The dialog went something like this:<p>

Hello Margaret, is work over for the day? Hi David, your out of school early she asked, peeking through the beads which replaced the dining room door? Yes Margaret, I was surfin' all day. Isn't it a bit cold to be swimming in the ocean? I own a wet suit now, but my face does get a bit blue on occasion. I bet, she replied, then entered the room and sat next to me on the piano bench. Oh man, she looks great and smells so delicious I thought. David, she whispered in my ear, Greg's birthday is next week. We want to have a surprise party in the early evening out on the terrace. I know you have many young girlfriend's, could you bring them? I don't know if their parents will allow them over here, Margaret. Why is that, David? Well, you look so different and many people think your strange. She knew this, but I played along. Margaret, the way you dress and the thing's you say make people talk. Oh David, do they really talk about me, all those young girls and their parents? Yes, Margaret, they do, as I nuzzled closer. Well, see what you can do for me, okay. All right, I think the chicks will come if I ask nice, and what time and day is the party anyhow? Come over at 7:00 PM next Wednesday. This will be fun Margaret, we can dance and are you gonna play guitar? Tom and I will play and everyone will be given some type of instrument. Far out, it will be just like the coffee house under the post office in Ocean Grove. When Ricky "D" plays down there, we all grab something, forks, spoons, whatever and get a groove goin'!<p>

Margaret hopped off the piano bench and thanked me. My eyes were glued to her firm tush, shakin' to that perpetual bop she must have had playin' in her head. Ya, I'll get the chicks to come and meet this wild bunch. Greg, forget him, he hasn't the least bit of interest in girls or music. All he wants is to be on the streets with the boys, sneakin' round and gettin' over. In less then a year, my new friend Bruce would be welcome in this apartment and crash overnight often. The piano bench would be a familiar seat for his skinny frame, and he'd be introduced to a different way of life, compared to Freehold, out in the sticks.<p>

The following Wednesday, I escorted my four cute friends to the terrace. The sunset fading over the armory was brushed in soft pastels. These were the girls I originally met on a school trip to the New York World's Fair in Nineteen Sixty Four. Jackie and Betsy each lived less then a hundred feet from Southside's home in The Grove. He hadn't obtained that nickname yet, we just called him Johnny, the pinball king. If you were lookin' for us boys, the Casino or Palace, down the circuit, would be the place to start. Every machine ever made, had to have graced those wooden floors. We would make money selling the free games we popped, once our all day marathons ended. A tourist kid would walk by and we'd ask him to buy the games. How many you got they'd ask, and they'd freak to hear, seven hundred, eight hundred. The most possible was nine hundred and ninety nine free games. We knew all the tricks and became masters of timing the wheels of chance.<p>

The girls were astonished when Margaret and Tom greeted them. Tom was a burly and formidable individual. He wore the quintessential go-tee of the beat type. Like Margaret, nothing but black material touched their skin. A gigantic, wide leather belt and huge buckle surrounded his girth. You wouldn't want to be on the end of the black cycle boots he lumbered around in. Margaret was pleased, as she seated us outside. I loved to dance with Margaret, and I was looking forward to some rock and roll. I'd show these girls what Margaret taught me.<p>

Terry and Greg were already waiting on the terrace. I sure hope Greg doesn't get crazy, he's prone to that. The weather was perfect in every respect. Friend's of Margaret and Tom stopped by and I broke out the case of forty five's I brought. I liked listening to the type of music that Vini, Gary and Ricky played. They knew about all the British Bands and individual musicians. Eric Clapton was and is Rick's hero! Moment of Truth was Rick's band and the Yardbirds covers were our favorite. A certain redhead would eventually join Rick in another band, after Vini and Gary hit the road in a group called SteelMill. Rick sure knew how to pick em', didn't he! Ricky "D" plays lead for the Lance Larson Band today and I highly recommend a show when your down the shore! You never know who'll be on stage on any given night. Bernard "Pretty" Purdie, the most recorded drummer in the world, or maybe the thirteen year old lead prodigy, Brian Amsterdam could make an appearance.<p>

One of the other girls became my closest female friend. Barb accepted me, and treated me right, even though I was a wild child. We danced together and listened to Tom and Margaret perform the song "Cool Water", which lasted forty minutes. Everyone was laughing, singing and having a plain old bitchin' time! The ironic part is these girls were never allowed to come to our club, UPSTAGE. We all had a bad ass reputation, because we had to much fun. Word got around to parents about this den of iniquity where they played rock and roll till dawn. The attitude on the conservative, republican dominated shore of the era was critical towards our lifestyle. When Steven showed up one night, I thought to myself, man, he's got balls. I never saw anyone with hair as savage and long like his. You knew he was taking a shitload of grief on the streets.<p>

Margaret thought the party was a complete success in all respects. Afterwards we'd talk about all the thing's us kids liked. Surfin', skateboarding, dancing, chicks, music, art, polictics and friend's were the main topics. That's all I ever cared to think or talk about @ that age. It was not very complicated, and I was compulsive in my quest to merge the above. The big problem was we were to young for the bar scene. It sucked hangin' outside Mrs. Jay's or Steve Brody's where the Jaywalkers, the best band on the shore played. They didn't want us gettin' in the way of the paying customers. There wasn't anyone interested, until Tom and Margaret decided to give us what we craved. A place were my friend's could show their stuff, and other could join if they thought their abilities were up to par, or in some rare cases, they completely Upstaged the locals.<p>

Okay, this is what we're going to do, Margaret told Terry, Smoothie, Monk and I. You kids go to the Espresso House near the beach, right? Yes Margaret, that's an interesting place. Tom and I decided to open a business on the corner, over top the Thom McAn store. What kind of business Margaret? Like the post office coffee house and the espresso house. We'll have music, food, artwork and a place to meet. Wow, can we help you? Of course, and this will be a spot for the hip kids. Yes, it would be a place unlike any other I've stumbled on, a rockers salvation. A word of mouth experiment that was our own. A character driven drama that invaded our body core and you knew there'd never be lettin' go!<p>

Until recently, I've maintained my own private memories in connection to an era shadowed in a haze of obscurity and myth. I literally lived the lyrics to some of the first songs of the Asbury Sound. An example would be the night we made an excursion to the dark side of Route 88. I can't think of a better forum then this for unveiling some of my stories and maybe touch a nerve here and there. Who knows, maybe we'll all meet down Greasy Lake again, I wouldn't mind.