Aerial View was WFMU’s first regularly-scheduled phone-in talk show. Hosted by Chris T. and on the air since 1989, the show features topical conversation, interviews and many trips down the rabbit hole. Until further notice, Aerial View is only available as a podcast, available every Tuesday morning. Subscribe to the newsletter “See You Next Tuesday!” and find tons of archives at aerialview.me.
With rare exception I no longer attend the movies. I long ago lost my tolerance for endless, ear-splitting commercials and trailers before the main feature. My fellow movie-goers used to be just annoying and now they may be sporting assault rifles, attempting mass murder. So it sometimes takes me years to see a film. A good example is CBGB. It came out in 2013 but I saw it this weekend, via Netflix. I heard horrible things about the film and was determined to give it a pass but it seemed like a good backdrop to a Saturday afternoon working on one of my guitars.
Alan Rickman plays Hilly Kristal, founder of CBGB and someone with whom I became friendly in the early 80's over the course of many CBGB's evening and matinee shows featuring The Nihilistics. Without arguing the merits of the film (it goes wrong in so many ways), I enjoyed RIckman's portrayal, especially how Hilly's essential good-hearted and supportive nature shines through. Hilly liked The Nihilistics and before we'd take the stage I'd park myself near CB's front entrance and listen to Hilly's Dead Boys stories and tales of his own thwarted music career (I long ago lost the cassette he gave me of the children's (!) songs he recorded about life on the farm). Hilly always made our band feel like we belonged on the same stage that launched so many ground-breaking groups depicted (terribly) in the film. But like many of those groups, we were destined for obscurity, too late for the record company feeding frenzy and too early for the juggernaut that was to become MTV.
CBGB is, of course, gone, the victim of the gentrification it helped usher in. I haven't been on the Bowery in years and I'm sure - like much of the Manhattan I mourn - its appearance today would depress the living shit out of me. But on this Aerial View podcast we'll travel back to CBGB circa 1984, to a show featuring (if memory serves) SS Decontrol, Jerry's Kids, Gang Green and - no doubt - Kraut, since every show we ever played seemed to feature Kraut as the headliner. Our set is presented as it happened, recorded through the CBGB live sound console direct to stereo cassette, with fourteen (actually, thirteen and a half) songs filling one side of a 90 minute tape (hang in there for the bonus fourteenth song).
Here are the songs:
Mr. 9 to 5
Badge Of Shame
You're To Blame
Rock & Roll
Ron, Mike, Troy and Chris: The Nihilistics circa 1983.
Listen for lots of onstage banter, including Mike, Ron and myself ridiculing our fellow bands; my meltdown halfway through Anti Social when overzealous stage-diving audience members managed to unplug my guitar pedals and lots of on-mic commentary from those same audience members.
For whatever reason, there almost no documentation - audio or video - of the original Nihilistics (I left the band shortly after this show, see Our Last Show, below) in full bloom. This is about it. So please enjoy it, hiss and all, as my Christmas gift to you.
My attempt at a Nihilistics business card, circa 1981.
This backstage CBGB picture accompanied a March 11, 1984 Newsday article by Wayne Robins.
Our Last Show
This first ran in See You Next Tue! #42 but it fits, so here it is again.
The part that sticks in my mind more than any other is this: we're crawling over the Manhattan bridge, on the outer roadway, there's a light drizle and I'm looking at the buildings far below, wondering "Who the hell lives in there?"
I remember feeilng under the weather, a cold coming on, and wishing the damn gig was already behind me. It was November 11, 1984 and The Nihilistics were due at CBGB's for yet another of our Sunday matinee shows. We seemed to play one every month. Today we'd be headlining, with SS Decontrol, Gang Green and a few others supporting.
I sat in the back, on the passenger side, glumly staring out the window, wondering if Mike was really prepared to go through with the newly-announced plan to add Ron's brother on lead guitar. I had nothing against Ron's brother but wondered why I was being asked to split guitar duties at this point in our history. We jammed a few times and I just couldn't see how this kid with the BC Rich Warlock, long hair and heavy metal licks was ever gonna fit in with The Nihilstics.
My pride was also severely wounded by the thought my lead guitar skills were seen as lacking by Ron and Mike (the drummer, Troy, didn't seem to feel one way or another about it). I just know I wasn't about to become a rhythm guitarist just because Ron and Mike wanted it that way.
Mike didn't really talk to me all the way into the city. I could tell he was stil pissed at me for telling him I wasn't interested in playing second banana. I had always pictured The Nihilistics as a foursome and thought we were just fine the way things were. I forget who else was in Mike’s Buick. Was it Al and Abby in the backseat with me? And who was that in front, alongside Mike? Sandy? Wendy? Christine?
Soon enough we were maing the right turn on Bowery and after a few more minutes were double-parked in front of CB's. The Nihilstics had come pretty far from our start in my mother's basement. We were surrounded by well-wsihers and fans, eager to help us unload our gear. Mike loved the attention, and loved playng to the crowd. No matter how angry I got at him I always admired his sense of humor and his ability to write great punk rock songs.
Me and Mike Nicolosi (RIP) in my basement, circa 1979
We'd become friends in junior high, social outcasts before we even knew what the term meant. Mike and I were both fat and knew the sting of ridicule and rejection. We began sitting at the same table in the lunchroom, entertaining each other with Monty Python routines or bouts of wrestling. Before long I got an invite to Mike's house and we spent the afternoon playing with toys he kept in a storage space in his basement wall. We hung out when ever we could because our sensibilities clicked. Then a strange, wonderful thing happend: Mike, who was the fattest kid in our school, lost all of his excess weight. He came to high school that September positively thin. As someone who never had conquered obesity, I was in total awe. "How did you do it?" I asked, thoroughly stunned. "My parents put me on a diet." he answered, as if it were that simple.
Along with his new body, Mike's forged a new personality. No longer timid, ashamed, he found himself suddenly popular and in demand for his quick wit - which only showed him what hypocrites people can be. He used to say to me, "These people didn't care about me when I was fat. Now they want to be my friends."
Mike and I had much the same musical tastes. We hated pop music, especially the foul emanations of Long Island's numer one piano man, Billy Joel. At the time, I was heavily into groups like Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, The Doors, Queen, Aerosmith, ELP,Yes - and especially Led Zeppelin. I first picked up the guitar when I was twelve, thirteen because I wanted to be Jimmy Page.
Then, in 1978 the Sex Pistols came to America. I remember them being made fun of on the news, the names Johnny Rotten and Sid Vixious always spoken with a smirk. There was one kid in our high shcool who used to wear a Sex Pistols button and was routinely called "fag" and worse. But I was curious. I went out and bought Never Mind the Bollocks and immediately slapped it on my mother's Longines Symponhette stereo. I couldn't believe my ears. It was the coolest thing I'd ever heard, so angry and self-assured, no sappy songs about wizards or love or stairways to heaven. My worldview changed 180 degrees in the time it took to play both sides.
Mike must've had a similar epiphany because before long we were heading out to record stores together. We looked for new stuff, punk records and things we'd never been turned on to properly, like the MC5 and The Stooges. I began to connect the dots from the Sex Pistols on back and still remember my utter joy at hearing the New York Dolls for the frist time.
Not satisfied with merely being listeners, Mike and I decied to become participants. He’d bought a Hagstrom bass and I had the Ibanez Les Pal copy my grandmother bought me for Christmas one year. After school we'd get together in the basement of my house and bang out riffs. We hung a microphone from the suspended ceiling, plugged it into my trusty Panasonic cassette deck, and recorded our first forays into punk rock: songs with titles like Grandmas Are Made For Kicking and Badge of Shame. We tried to recruit various friends of ours to play drums or sing but none of them ever stayed for long.
The Chris T. Ramones
I Wanna Be Your Aerial View Boyfriend
My Legz Membership Card, circa 1981.
Then Mike met Ron one evening at a small dance club - Legz - in Valley Stream. It was a place Mike and I went to every Friday and Saturday night. They had some good DJs and would play punk rock. We’d drink gin and tonics and ogle the girls. Often, we’d just hang out in the parking lot, smoking our Ben Franklin cigars ($3.99 a box of 50 at the Pathmark). That’s where Mike heard the Dead Boys drifting out of a car window and leaned over to say, “At least someone’s listening to some good fuckin’ music around here.”
Ron came down to my basement, too. But he stuck around until things got serious enough that we went looking for an actual drummer. Previously, we made due with whichever friend was willing to bang on the rat-trap set I’d pulled together. But we wanted to have a band - an actual band with an actual drummer.
It was around this time we figured we should name our new outfit. In one of our numerous Salvation Army raids, I’d pulled a copy of Sartre’s Nausea out of a crate of books left outside. I began thumbing through it as we drove back to Mike’s house and was completely floored by what I was reading. I connected with it in a way I had never experienced and began reading portions to Ron and Mike, upfront. Somewhere in the text I came across the word “nihilistic”. I remembered seeing it in relation to the Sex Pistols and here it was again. I mentioned it to Ron and Mike as we drove off, pronouncing it to rhyme with “stylistic”. Then I thought of The Stylistics and it came to me: The Nihilistics.
It was perfect.
Soon after naming ourselves, we found Troy, who lived in the same town as Mike and I. The puzzle was complete and we began developing a set of songs. Mike provided most of the raw material, the words and riffs, and the rest of us would re-shape and mold things as we worked. It was truly a collaborative effort, with every idea tried and eventually rejected or incorporated. My lead breaks were my own territory entirely and I had free reign to do whatever I thought worked.
Before long we had recorded a demo tape and were getting airplay on WNYU’s The New Afternoon Show with Tim Sommer. One thing leading to another, we played our first Manhattan gig - a benefit for Lyle Hysen's Damaged Goods fanzine - at Max’s Kansas City sometime in late 1980 or early 1981. We really thought we had arrived, playing Max’s - a club well known to any punk rocker worth his or her salt.
From there on in we gigged in Manhattan fairly regularly. We got to play in all the clubs I’d read about in Creem and Rock Scene: the Mudd Club, Danceteria, Peppermint Lounge, Great Gildersleeves, Club 57, The Ritz and - of course, CBGB.
My phonebook, circa 1980. Want a gig? Call a club!
CB’s was always my favorite place to play for many reasons: its history, the dressing rooms with all the grafitti on the walls, the great sound system, the wild scene out front, the easy parking nearby and the fact that no one from the club interfered. You came in, you sound-checked, you waited your turn, you played and you got paid. That was that. No one pulled any shit on you, no one got in your face or said “You can’t do that.” We were generally treated as adults and it was expected we wouldn’t shit where we eat. And we didn’t. The Nihilistics may have encouraged some mindless violence in our day but we never fucked with Hilly or CB’s.
Which brings me back to November 11 and our final CB’s show. The Nihilistics, as a band, didn’t believe in much and we certainly didn’t buy into the agenda the bands from Boston were pushing. To us, they were stupid “party bands”, there to “rock the house” and have a good time. Our agenda was more complex: we were looking to spread some truth (or what we felt was truth) and provide a catharsis through our brutal, dark music. And on my agenda was this item: don’t break any strings (I rarely, if ever, had a back-up guitar while with The Nihilistics).
When it came time for us to go on, Mike could barely contain his rage at the bands from Boston. He put on a "California asshole" accent and mocked their skateboarding and desire to get laid. He also made reference to it being the end of The Nihilistics, addressing one of our biggest fans, Steve Manny, upfront in the crowd. That’s Paul Bearer’s voice just before Touch Me, doing the bit about Dustin Hoffman. Ron introduces Touch Me as a song “On our next album from Atlantic Records. We sold out, man." While none of that was true, it did so happen that Touch Me was performed for the first time at this particular show and would never be played again by the band’s original line-up.
I don't remember if we played any shows together after that one but within two years I was living in New Jersey and The Nihilistics carried on without me, something I hadn't imagined and found hard to believe. But being in that band changed me fundamentally and punk rock saved my life. If I look closely I can find a thread running back to that first time in my mother's basement, banging out songs with Mike, trying to be heard, seeking a reaction, wanting to get out. I'm still trying.
Mike (RIP) and me (in blonde wig), CBGB, 1984.
Obligatory Throwback Pic
Shot at CBGB, this 1983 news piece on Punk Rock features a young Chris T. at the 1:02 mark.
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