“For how many of you, is this your New Year’s Eve?” Dean asked from the Old Ironsides stage to the crowd of a couple hundred enthusiastic, middle-aged rock and roll fans. A unanimous roar of confirmation erupted, as I think a great many of my fellow forty- and fifty-somethings were very happy to be celebrating New Year’s Eve on December 30, on a beautiful, cold, Sacramento Saturday evening.
Dean is a friend from work, a really good guy with an encyclopedic knowledge of rock and roll, a DIY attitude, and an appreciation for old-school things in all flavors: cars, cities, music, beer, flip phones. None of it is pretentious though; he’s just a genuinely cool and authentic person, who sees modern trends and styles and says “Nah, I’m good.”
He was in some bands that would play around Sacramento back in the 80’s and 90’s, but I never caught any of them back then. When he told me the Decibels were reuniting and playing at Old Ironsides on December 30 I was all in, and I knew it would serve double duty as my New Year’s Eve celebration.
Through Facebook, I saw that a number of friends and acquaintances were going to be there, from various corners of my life: work, youth baseball, McClatchy High, Punk Rock Movie Night, and other friends of friends. It was shaping up to be my favorite kind of night: loud rock and roll, booze, and random cool people popping in and out. I’ve come to accept the fact that I’m an extrovert, despite many periods of intense shyness in my life. My return to drinking after decades of sobriety has apparently acted as an adrenaline shot to my inner, hidden extrovert: a most unexpected side effect of giving up years of abstention.
The night started at our brother and sister-in-law’s house, where a small gathering of couples and families and killer food and drinks set the stage for what was to be a memorable evening. After a few hours I bid adieu to Amy and the kids and the other partygoers to Lyft over to Jacob’s house, where Joey and I were to meet before Old Ironsides. Jacob and his family live in a beautiful old home in Midtown, to which I’d never been, and my eyes popped when he led us to his back house, where his in-laws from Alaska live downstairs in the winter, but where upstairs is a huge, incredible space for playing and recording music. Sofas, beds, record players, lounge chairs, books, CDs, vinyl records and killer custom artwork littered this space, and Jacob said he had a surprise for us.
He had found a vinyl version of …For the Whole World to See, the only real album – released decades after the songs were recorded – from the proto-punk band Death from the 1970’s. The Punk Rock Movie Night gang had watched the film a few weeks prior over at Joey’s house, and we all fell in love with the Hackney brothers and were itching to get our hands on a copy. It sounded great on vinyl, and I vowed to get my own copy.
Joey agreed to be designated driver, and we showed up to a packed Old Ironsides about a half hour before the Decibles’ set. The Decibles had been slated to be the second of three bands – playing after The Ogres but before Th’ Losin’ Streaks – but they volunteered to be the opening act, being fellow old-timers who wanted to play the set and get the hell out of there. It turned out not too many of my work friends showed up, except Keith and Karen, but there were plenty of other folks from various sectors of my life. The bar was packed, but Jacob, being about six foot four had a better shot of weaseling his way in to place an order than I did (although I am not completely unskilled at this, despite my lack of height). Because I really only started drinking beer a couple of years ago, and found I had a taste for IPA’s, I have developed a perverse aversion to essentially every other kind of beer. I’m not proud of this. I don’t want to be a beer snob, but as Jacob went in for the order I told him to get me any IPA, but if they don’t have one, get me a gin and tonic. He returned a few minutes later with a Lagunitas. Good enough.
I ran into Keith, two Karens, Curtis, Judd and Justin and met some new people too. I ran into Dean in his gray and black striped suit jacket, with red shirt and tie, matching his bandmates. I wished him a great show, and weaseled my way up front. The Decibels absolutely killed it, playing a bunch of songs I didn’t know but immediately got into my head. They’re an interesting band: a throwback to kind of a Kinksian, semi-moddish era of short, simple songs with infectious hooks blasted at maximum volume, with all band members taking turns on lead vocals. There were jokes from the band about the drummer, Brian – who seemed a bit older than the rest of the band – playing in a suit jacket for the first time. Sounds like a nightmare, but you do what you gotta do for rock and roll. Brian’s jacket came off before long, but he hung in there with the shirt and tie. It was obviously hot under the lights in that packed club, but to me it was no worse than any other crowded small venue. Dean, nice guy that he is, apologized to the crowd for the heat, but I think it was ten times worse for the band, outfitted the way they were, than for the audience. Dean didn’t look any worse for wear than any other rocker I’ve seen, but I think he was feeling it. At one point he said something – to the crowd, to himself, to the band – to the effect of “We’re dying up here,” to which I yelled “You’re not dying, you’re living!” which got a laugh. I believe it with all my heart, but it’s also easy for me to say from the crowd in a thin, comfortable T-shirt.
Although it must have been hot as hell on that stage, the Decibels were truly living up there. Every so often at a rock and roll show I get emotional and have to fight back tears. It’s not always about particular songs or sentiment from the band, but when the planets align just right, and I’m front and center in a rock and roll club, watching a band I really dig up on stage, it becomes a religious experience for me. I think about being a little kid, five or six years old and loving The Beach Boys and Elvis Presley, simply because my sisters did. And then being ten and obsessed with KISS, then 14 and the Metal Years, and 17 when it was all U2 and Talking Heads, then the folk years, the garage years, discovering people like Neil Young and Leonard Cohen way too late, Bowie, White Stripes, Cowboy Junkies, sneaking into Andrew Jackson Jihad a couple weeks ago. I’m pushing fifty years old and I love rock and roll music more every year. I feel grateful to be alive at this moment in history, on this night at Old Ironsides, surrounded by friends and strangers alike, listening to a friend’s band play songs I don’t even know (except the Pictures of Matchstick Men cover), experiencing a perfect, priceless moment.
A guy across the club looked very familiar, but that’s how it is in Sacramento. When The Ogres were playing I ended up on the other side of the room, close to this gentleman, and I realized it was Jerry Perry, local Sacramento rock and roll promoter, club owner, and all around legend. I don’t know him – I hung out with him on a single occasion back in the day, with a group of others – but I was feeling the rock and roll love (and, admittedly, also the booze) so strongly that night I decided to say something to him. “Hey, you’re Jerry Perry, right?” He confirmed, so I told him that I just wanted to shake his hand and thank him for The Cattle Club all those years ago. I believe he was the head promoter for the club, and he was the personality who would come out on stage to introduce the bands. Some of my favorite rock and roll memories came from The Cattle Club in the early ’90’s, seeing bands like Cake, Urge Overkill, KMFDM, Tool, Mark Curry, Mary’s Danish, and a million more at that rad little club on Folsom Boulevard. Jerry seemed to appreciate the gesture, and we chatted for just a minute before I wandered away, not wanting to be more of a weirdo than I already am.
The Ogres came on next, and they were a fun surf-rock-dressed-as-cavemen outfit from San Francisco, but the crowd had thinned a touch by then. By the time Th’ Losin’ Streaks came on as headliners, I had had enough. The bar was not nearly as crowded now, and some of my friends were hanging out there, so I decided to sit and drink and talk rather than jump back into the crowd for my third band of the night. The combination of booze and rock and roll is a true fountain of youth for me, but it only lasts so long, about two bands worth, seemingly.
God bless Joey, still sober, who drove us home. After dropping Jacob off, as we made our way down J Street to River Park, Joey suddenly swerves over to the side of the rode in front of Chargin’s Bar & Grill. He didn’t need a sudden drink, but he saw a couple of gentlemen stumbling around out front and rolled down the window to ask them if they needed a ride. These were a couple of white guys, older, but within spitting distance of my age I’m guessing, and profoundly hammered. Joey leaned across me to speak to them through the passenger window, “Hey, is Nick in there?” (The owner, I think? A friend of Joey’s anyway.) The drunks didn’t know how to respond to that; I think they thought we were an Uber. “Get in, where do you guys live?” Joey didn’t even ask how far away they lived, that’s the kind of guy Joey is. Part of his altruism may have been to look out for his friend, the bar owner, not wanting a couple of his customers to get mugged or flattened by a car on J Street after just patronizing the establishment. But Joey is truly one of the world’s good people, and he is always willing to help someone, stranger or not.
The Less-Blitzed Gentleman said he lived on a street not far from mine, so we saw this as perfect serendipity; it wouldn’t put us out of our way at all. The LBG tried tossing some cash into the front seat, but Joey wouldn’t take it. I think they eventually settled on five dollars. “Heyyy mannn… I gottta pay you somethin’,” to which Joey, who is sneakily quick-witted replied “Oh, you’re going to pay tomorrow, that’s for sure.” The More-Blitzed Gentleman was nearly comatose: eyes open, trying and failing to participate in the conversation, just kind of bobbing his head and moving his limbs around slowly. Joey had the Beatles channel on his SiriusXM station, and we were singing along – badly, we thought – until the drunks tried to chime in incoherently. We got them home, and LBG was all hugs and kisses for Joey and me, what awesome people we were. I can’t take credit; I’m not that good of a person, but once Joey made the decision to pull over I played the part as best I could. MBG couldn’t quite navigate getting his legs from the inside of the car to the outside of the car, so it took a lot of handling to get him into the arms of LBG as they staggered up to the front porch of what I hope was their house. There was absolutely no chance either of them, even LBG, would remember how they got home.
On actual New Year’s Eve Amy and I stayed in like we always do. She’s the only one I want to be with on that night, and she’s less of a goer-outer these days than I am, so the 31st was just mom and dad time, with the kids all scattered over various places and activities: Josie at her friend’s, Henry in Munich, Vincent at his own place while Anya worked an event. We’ve always done mellow New Years’ at home with the family, but as the kids get older and fan out on their own, I’m happy to settle in my cozy house by the fire, hanging out with Amy and watching movies. When the clock struck midnight Amy was asleep and I was midway through Batman Vs. Superman (“Whoever Wins, We Lose” as Josie calls it). Asleep by 12:30, thinking about last night’s craziness and wondering if I’ll ever feel too old for that kind of thing. For now, at forty-eight, I’m glad to be home on real New Year’s Eve though, as the year ticks over to 2018, which seems a very long way from 1969.