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Monday, January 16, 2012

1-16-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #14 (Musician-Restaurant Worker. . . in Soho, NYC)

On Prince Street in Soho, between West Broadway and Thompson, a hip little record store called Rock’s In Your Head was nestled on a sleepy block across from the famous Vesuvio bread bakery in the late ‘70’s/early ‘80’s.

A nice guy named Ira ran the record store – which also carried all the latest music press. You could either buy it there or on St. Mark’s and 2nd Avenue, at the Gem Spa. Because I lived closer to Rock’s once I moved out of St. Mark’s Place – and because Shaun Brighton lived on Mercer Street in Soho – well, we were frequent visitors to Rock’s In Your Head.

I sold ice cream and cold beverages in a small booth in the back of the record store one summer. . . I don’t know why Ira hired me to do that, but it really was a godsend, whatever little cash came from it. Thanks, Ira!

Anyway, at Rock’s In Your Head, Shaun and I would bump into other musicians there, like the guys from the dB’s, Will, Gene, Chris, and Peter. We’d share info about opportunities to earn $ onstage and off. One tip: try getting a job at the Spring Street Bar/Restaurant. Two dB’s already worked there; I’d try my luck, esp. since it was my stomping grounds.

Nervus Rex was spawned in Soho, in Shaun’s parents, the Krushenick’s, loft. We spent a lot of time talking, plotting, planning the band. . . and it took about a year before it was ready in any way, shape or form to play out and have a real gig. Shaun’s father, Nicholas Krushenick, was a well known artist who did “hard edged abstract” paintings, with lots of jagged black zigzags around the border. . . he was a fan of Vasily Kandinsky, the Russian abstract expressionist, and so Shaun’s middle name was Vasily. He picked the name “Brighton” because it was “B-right-on,” sounded English, and wasn’t Krushenick. Apparently (I found out years later) his father strongly discouraged an art career for his son (although Shaun was very gifted at art and design) so Shaun changed his name to Brighton, learned guitar, sang and started writing his own songs. The band would benefit from equipment the Krushenicks bought for us (nice electric guitars and amps).

I learned so much about art in general and the downtown art scene at the time, specifically, by being around the Krushenicks. It was like being on the inside of a small, almost incestuous scene, where people smiled when they saw you at openings and shows, but behind the scenes was a lot of gossip, in jokes, and sometimes, backstabbing. Being new to all that, I listened and joked a little, but knew my place was definitely peripheral.

More about the early Soho art scene later. How about the restaurant scene?

Prince Street always had Fanelli’s, which was popular. And the Broome Street Bar was part of it. Cupping Room Café and Lucky Strike were also part of the ‘70’s/’80’s eateries, as was the fancy French restaurant, Raoul’s, on Prince Street.

But the coolest place to eat and drink for a few short years had to be the Spring Street Bar. Always in need of another gig, I did indeed take the dB’s (Will & Chris) advice and asked if they needed any help. Had I worked in bars or restaurants before? No. But I WAS 21, and kind of cute, truthfully. I was willing to learn, and my schedule was flexible. So I was in!

They made me their “shelf girl.” Now, the shelf at Spring Street Bar was a little section off the bar, one step up, triangularly shaped, with about six small tables. I had to wear some sort of uniform, and take drink orders only. So I was a cocktail waitress. Only, I didn’t drink and had very little idea of what anybody was ordering. Come to think of it now, it’s really laughable, and kind of sweet that people would hire SUCH a neophyte and non drinker.

Sure, I caught on quick, but the mistakes that I made were none that somebody with experience would have ever made. . . but that wasn’t the point. If you were sincere, dependable, willing to learn and looked good, the management and the customers were happy with their little “shelf girl.”

When my section was slow, I’d wander the restaurant and watch the other waiters because they were invariably entertaining. One little guy, a very gay and expressive dark haired young actor, was asked by somebody at one of his tables how one of the dishes on the menu tasted. He cocked an eyebrow, took a step back, bowed his head forward a little, lifted index finger to his open mouth, and made a pretend-puking motion.

I quickly left to run to the bathroom so I could laugh my ass off.

Such was my introduction to restaurant life.

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