THE DICTATORS RE-FORM TO HEADLINE
“THE TENTH ANNIVERSARY OF PUNK”
CONCERT AT THE RITZ, NYC
NYC? The Big Apple? Me? It was January, 1986. I was 32, and had never been east of Dayton. But when the call came from Salvi, telling me about the Dictators reforming to headline the “10th Anniversary of Punk” at the Ritz, I did what any red-blooded Dictators fan would do … I borrowed $250 from my then-girlfriend and headed to Midway Airport! I hopped a Thursday night flight to Newark via People’s Express, a budget airline that required passengers to pay in cash once the plane was in the air! People’s Express made traveling by Greyhound seem like a first-class trip in comparison. But I got there in one piece. Who knows what fell off that plane en route?
I landed at Newark, no plans, no room, ending up crashing at the Ben Franklin Inn (“Where a Penny Saved…”). Friday dawned bright and crisp, I grabbed an eventual bus to downtown Newark. A nice gentleman sat next to me immediately, asking me lots of questions, several times inviting me to hop off the bus for “a drink or two.” People sure were friendly in Newark! And I’d heard such bad things.
Sal and I had been trading ‘Tatortapes since 1980, and had spoken many times on the phone, but had never met. It didn’t matter, he and I were cut from the same cloth. When he’d asked, “How will I know it’s you?” I’d told him to simply look for the guy who looks the least like you think I look like, then look for the Dictators badge on my jacket. He spotted me immediately upon reaching to top of the stairs of Penn Station. Was I that obvious a midwesterner? Was it the manure on my shoes? The hay behind my ears? To this day, he won’t say.
We met up with Sal’s pal Jimmy Bradt, who took us to meet his pals Pat & Mike at this guy Mike Mazzarella’s swanky walkup, which had a bathtub in the living room, but the floor’s hopper was down the hall. Hell, at least we had outhouses in Ilinois! Pat & Mike were in a band called The Smithereens, and were celebrating their signing earlier that day, to Enigma Records. We later met Dennis & Tex, the other ‘Reens, over a beer or three. I figured I was in for a real cool time, I was hobnobbing with rockstars already!
Upon arriving at the Ritz, we spy HDM hisself, with the legendary red HANDSOME DICK MANITOBA jacket slung over his shoulder, heading inside. I got cold feet in the presence of the man, so Salvi grabbed my stack of albums to be signed and warily approached. After signing albums to Rob, Sal, Fred and Frank, HDM bellowed, “Don’t you know any women?” No comment.
HDM wore “The Jacket” for the first couple numbers before doffing it to reveal a denim vest with “I AM RIGHT” written in huge duct-tape letters across the back. By the end of the set, he was down to a long, white nightshirt with New York newspaper headlines printed all over it. Stylin’ and beguilin’ as always! I can only inspire to one day become such a sharp-dressed man.
After The Sic F*cks and The Rattlers opened, the mighty Dictators stormed onstage, not at all sounding like a band that hadn’t played together in such a long time. A sizzling set, with HDM in fine form on vocals, and as ringmaster. After Andy, Scott and Rich each took their vocal turns, Manitoba returned in full Springsteen drag to deliver a monologue, leading into “New York New York,” complete with original lyrics (“I ride trains with Negroes, junkies, fags and squares.” Didn’t John Rocker later lose his baseball career for pretty much saying the same thing?). But the best was yet to come, with HDM introducing “an alumnus, Mark the Animal, to do THE NEXT BIG THING!”
Andy switched to third guitar, the building immediately began to shake under the thunder of this mighty lineup, reaching a crescendo during Ross’ solo, with Mark playing huge bass chords underneath, Scott and Andy playing power chords to match. To this very day I’ve never seen a band match the intensity of that passage! Just after the solos, and before “I won’t be happy, ’till I’m known far and wide…”, HDM was pulled into the crowd while trying to hold onto his mike. The band roared on, watching (and laughing at) the tussle. The moron who’d snatched the mike was bellowing into it, but as the song was ending, HDM, with the mike in hand, climbed back on stage, pointing at the grabber, mouthing the words “I TOLD YOU SO!” Hopefully Mr. Manitoba had put the chump in a Camel Clutch and stomped his face into a crimson mask.
The band looked so much different than the last time I’d seen them, being pelted with garbage and beer by Thin Lizzy and AC/DC fans at the Aragon during the final gasps of the ’78 Bloodbrothers tour. (Bon Scott’s dead. Phil Lynott’s dead. But HDM lives on, baby!) Andy, Scott and the much-slimmed-down, healthy-looking HDM sporting short ‘dos, Ross the Boss sporting his Manowar shag (bet he’s not proud of that today). Only Rich Teeter, and later Mark the Animal, looked the same. Ross played a black Stratocaster w/ whammy on several songs, I’d never seen him use a Fender before, or since. The band was more animated than I’d ever seen them before, with Kempner windmilling chords like his hero Pete, Ross and Andy all over the stage, and Manitoba displaying an energy he’d never been able to muster before. Teeter deserves special mention for his better-than-ever drumming and spot-on vocal work. The guy always displayed a tremendous pop voice; his drum work during his stint in The Dictators has always been underappreciated.
But the best sight of all was the smiling, laughing, hugging and mugging on the stage, a band truly happy to be back, and to be playing almost as if it hadn’t been seven years since the last gig. Amazing. “Dictators Forever, Forever Dictators”! Yes! They live!
We hung around after the show, getting stuff signed, then heading off to a tiny back-alley bar, full of Mets memorabilia, cold beer and the coolest jukebox in captivity! Hanging around with Russell Wolinsky, Roscoe Ambel, meeting up again with Mesaros & DiNizio for chow at an all-night diner. As Bradt drove Sal and I back to Penn Station, he swung past the closed CBGB’s so we could see the home of the music we love, the first and only time I saw our Mecca until the Dics gigs closing it down in October of 2006.
Salvi & I staggered into Penn Station at daybreak, just as the cops began rousting the hookers, winos and weirdos out into the cold, cruel light of dawn, another unforgettable sight. As my train announcement was made, and Sal and I bid our adieus, I followed a pair of identical pneumatic blondes in matching white fur coats and white go-go boots (and possibly nothing else) down into the tunnel. Walking out of the station in Newark, they headed across the street to the huge Sheraton. So maybe there was one guy who would have more fun and adventure than I’d had that weekend. But he probably had an expense account.
I arrived back at Midway around noon, running on no sleep and badly needing a shower and clean clothes to get rid of that unmistakable NYC aroma. As my ever-charming girlfriend said, as soon as I got in her car: “YOU STINK!” Luckily there had been a lot of empty seats on the plane. Or had everybody else on board sat as far away from my olfactory offensiveness as possible?
After a 26-hour nap, it was Super Bowl Sunday, with my beloved Bears annihilating the Patriots 46-10. Topping it all off, when the Bears scored a safety in the final moments, I won the Super Bowl pool, taking home an easy $600, paying for my trip, paying back my girlfriend and making me a bit of a celeb around work. At least until the space shuttle Challenger blew up during liftoff Tuesday morning, that is. A major buzzkill, and an emphatic exclamation point on what had been a great weekend.
Maybe I’ve had better weekends since then, like my wedding to Judy (not the aforementioned woman), the Vegas Shakedown, Little Steven’s Underground Garage Fest at Randall’s Island, or the pair of Dics gigs closing down CBGB’s, but those memories of two dozen years ago remain as fresh as if they were just last year. That’s the power of real rock and roll, kids!
Thanks, as always, to my great friend Salvi, with whom I’ve had so many misadventures over the years, most of them Dictators related. I wouldn’t have done any of this stuff if not for you, I’m eternally indebted for that. Sure, we’re getting to be olde bastards, but so are The Dictators! As long as The Dictators do it, we will do it, too.
The Set List, Friday, January 24, 1986, The Ritz, NYC
Master Race Rock
Stay With Me
Baby, Let’s Twist
Faster and Louder
Loyola (Andy vocal)
Tallahassee Lassie (Scott vocal)
What Goes On? (Rich vocal)
New York New York
I Stand Tall
Next Big Thing (Mark “The Animal” Mendoza on bass, Andy moves to 3rd guitar for the remainder of the night)
Science Gone Too Far!
Dogs (aka Young, Fast & Scientific)
Two Tub Man
Search and Destroy
4 responses to “Jan. 24, 1986: The Musical Comeback of the Century!”
CJ, thanks for the pics!
Damn! Great story… There should be a movie.
Great piece…thanks for sharing it.
Man, that’s a GREAT story – thanks! But, it also made me terribly jealous and made me wonder why in the hell I wasn’t at that show cuz I went to high school in NJ with ¾ of The Smithereens. Dennis and Mike were single handedly responsible for turning me onto to the Dictators and later the Ramones.
I was there in Jim’s (Tex) garage when they first learned how to play It’s My Life together. We used to drive into the city from Carteret to see the Dictators, sometimes going in early to hit all the used record stores in the Village so Dennis could add to his several thousand album collection (no wonder he never had any money).
No joke, one of the “if I won the lottery” things I would do is put the money up for a show that reunited both bands. I think that would be a killer double bill: The Dictators and The Smithereens.