“I’ll be waiting for you in the parking lot and I’m gonna kick your ass”. I’m sure these words have been uttered more than once but I’ll never forget the first time I heard them. They came out of the mouth of my best friend, who was usually a quiet, peaceful guy, but on this particular night alcohol was using his body like a ventriloquist dummy. It was his birthday and it was Friday night. In the New York suburbs of Long Island in the 70’s, that meant drinking alcohol and lots of it. It was a pastime that my friends and I started in our early teens. It came with the territory as we grew up in the infamous place called Levittown. Levittown was a development built in the late 50’s and was touted as a place that young families from NYC could easily afford their suburban dreams. It later became known as a place that hosted wife swapping and drinking parties and more recently has been documented by the TV show “Desperate Housewives” which is supposedly based on life in this fine town. Suburban Hell.
“Excuse me Mr., will you buy us some beer” was the battle cry of this 13 year old weekend warrior as my three friends and I stood outside the local delicatessen on a Friday night trying to obtain a couple of six-packs of the cheapest beer available. Amazingly we almost always found someone willing to do our bidding and on most Friday’s the four of us could be found sharing cans of Gennesee and listening to records at Quack’s house. We all had nicknames that we still use some 35 years later, and these nicknames were all based on our last names. Quack was short for Quackenbush and rarely does a person get to carry a more accurate surname. Quack was the clown of our clique, a guy who’s comedic and musical talents always left me in awe of him. It was at his house that our Friday night parties usually took place, mostly because he had the best record collection. Quack was cheap entertainment as he never joined in on the drinking and was just happy to turn us on to new music or revel us in the entire dialogue of a Bugs Bunny cartoon, imitating the voice of every character with uncanny accuracy. Quack’s father on the other hand loved to drink and had no qualms about embarrassing himself when he did. I think this is why his son usually stayed away from alcohol, he didn’t want to act like his Dad. Like the one Saturday morning when Quack came over to my house in a panic and asked if I could help him get his Dad down from up in a tree. I went down the block to his house and there was Mr. Quackenbush, in a tree with a rake, shouting “I’m tired of waiting for these god damn leaves to fall out of the tree”. Embarrassing indeed.
Bone, Jab and Hippie(me) rounded out the circle of misfits. We had all known each other since Elementary School. It was music and sports that drew us together. In our early teens you might find us together at the Nets basketball game or a Led Zeppelin concert as we crossed the line between “Jock” and “Hood” with ease. We discovered pot in Jr. High School but beer was always our buzz of choice, mostly because it was easier to procure. And we often did some stupid shit while under the influence. Things that had once been innocent pranks evolved into psychotic episodes. One in particular really stands out. As pre-teens we would often hang out on the streets of our neighborhood being mischievous. One harmless prank we practiced was done right at dusk when the impending darkness made this prank possible. Two of us would stand on each side of the street making a pose as if we were holding a piece of rope across the street. The object was to get cars to stop so they wouldn’t hit our imaginary rope. Once they did, we would laugh and the usually red faced driver would drive away. One night Quack decided to bring our little prank to the next level. His folks had just bought a new color TV and he took all the Styrofoam packing material and soaked it in gasoline, making a slimy gel. He then poured a thick line of it across the street just as it was getting dark. When the next car approached he lit a match and ignited the gel. Whoooosh…a 2-3 foot wall of flames appeared across the entire road. The car’s driver slammed on his brakes and jumped out of the car cursing. Quack, in a panic, tried to stomp out the fire but the Napalm-like material just stuck to his shoes while still in flames. He was last seen that evening running away, feet on fire, and the rest of us were laughing our asses off, much to the chagrin of Mr. Veins Popping Out Of His Forehead, car driver. Just another day in our wacky neighborhood.
One Friday night, when we were about 15, our little gang made our first excursion into a bar. It was under unusual circumstances. There were plenty of local clubs that catered to the “18 and Over unless you have a fake ID” crowd. These clubs had names like Hammerheads, Uncle Sam’s and Rumbottoms and they usually had live music. The bands that played these clubs were mostly cover bands and each specialized in their own genre of music. For instance The Stanton-Anderson Band played southern rock, Rat Race Choir played progressive music ala Yes/ELP and Zebra had the Led Zep sound down pat. On this particular Friday, Rumbottoms, which was about a mile from my house, was hosting The Bonnie Parker Band. The highlight of their show were explosions and flashpots and on this particular night they caught the ceiling on fire. Hanging out on the streets we heard the fire trucks, could see smoke in the distance, and hopped on our bikes to go view the carnage. We stood out there and watched the club burn into the early morning and when it was over, and the Police and Fire personnel had all left, we noticed the back door to the club was open. We peeked in and saw what had to be their liquor storage room! We each ran in, grabbed a couple of bottles, and high tailed it home. We were in my backyard admiring our haul when my Dad came out to see what was going on. We proudly showed him the smokey bottles of cheap liquor like Crème De Menthe and generic Tequila. He shook his head in disgust and said that if we were going to risk getting caught stealing, we should at least grab something worthwhile. He then rattled off a few brand names like Chivas Regal and Grand Marnier and suggested that if we went back we should grab them instead of the putrid Crème De Cacao we were so proud of. After that night we decided that we would start using the front doors of these clubs while they were open rather than the back door when they were closed/destroyed.
I was the youngest of the group, but looked the oldest. It was pretty easy for me to get phony ID and in the summer of ’73 we started our journey into the local club scene. Nickel beer nights, cheap Tequila Sunrises and shots of the ultra sweet Alabama Slammers provided many a buzz for me and my buddies. Quack would usually just stare at the band, sober and wishing it was him up on the stage playing guitar. Bone would be earning his stripes trying to pick up the underage girls who had also used fake ID to gain entrance, while Jab and I tried to prove who could drink the most. We became regulars at the local spots, those within walking distance. Second rate clubs with second rate booze and second rate bands…..until the night we saw local legends, The Good Rats. The “Rats” were unlike any band we had ever seen before. They didn’t just play music, they put on a show. A show that would whip the crowd into a frenzy and helped them gain a following like no other band on the Island. The Good Rats were an enigma, a group of street tough hoods who played original songs that were ½ Blue Oyster Cult tough and ½ Steely Dan jazz swank. The band had been started by the Marchello Brothers, Mickey and Peppi. Peppi was the frontman, a singer of great range and deep feelings. The rumor was that he had been in the Yankees farm system as a promising baseball player but had given it up for music. Peppi was often seen holding a metal garbage can filled with rubber rats that he would beat in rhythm with a baseball bat while fling
ing the rubber rats into the audience. Their drummer Joe Franco was the best I had seen and to this day the only drummer who’s solos I could tolerate. Their lead guitarist John Gatto’s playing could be summed up by the title of their second LP, “Tasty” Bass player Lenny Kotke and rhythm guitarist Mickey Marchello rounded out what was to become our favorite band. We became full fledged Good Rat fanatics and for the next 2 years we tried to see them as much as possible which wound up being at least 50 times. We knew the words to every song. We knew what order they were going to play them in. And we knew that more often than not a fight was going to break out in the club as Peppi would antagonize the drunken crowd and beer muscles would appear everywhere. It was a blast.
For the next two years our nightlife revolved around the Good Rats…..if it was one of our birthdays we’d celebrate at one of their shows. Back then the legal drinking age was 18 and by late ’75 I was the only one of our group who was not yet “legal”. It was Quack’s birthday and we planned on going to Ubie’s OTJ club where the Good Rats were considered the “house band”. As I mentioned earlier, Quack didn’t usually drink, but when he did, watch the fuck out. Later on in life I spent some time as a bartender in various clubs around New York, but I never saw alcohol have a stronger and more adverse effect on a human as it did on Quack. This quiet and gentle soul would transform into an absolute beast when he drank. And on this particular birthday he drank…..a lot. We started drinking at the house and continued all the way to the club. By the time we were inside of Ubie’s we were pretty buzzed. And Quack was in rare form. All the hang ups that usually prevented him from approaching women had been washed away by booze as he hit on any female within earshot. His failure with these ladies just made him more agitated. Our salvation would be when the Good Rats hit the stage and Quack would be hypnotized by the music like the proverbial savage beast. But this night took a weird turn. Before the Good Rats hit the stage an announcer took the mike and introduced the “Opening Act”, some unheard of comedian who had the daunting task of entertaining a room full of rowdies. And boy did he suck. His attempt at jokes were amazingly unfunny and the crowd let him know it. It reminded me of a comedy routine I once heard Albert Brooks do about opening for Richie Havens at an arena in Texas. He concluded that a comedian had no business opening up a rock and roll show. And this night was living proof he was right.
Five minutes into his act the “comedian”, and I use that term loosely, had lost control of the crowd. In desperation he grabbed a conga drum and proceeded to jump off the stage shouting “Conga Line” attempting to calm the crowd down into some sort of controlled mayhem. Within seconds he was able to lure a few drunk folks to start following him around the room while he banged the conga drum and shouted some unusual cadence of grunts. It was surreal. But as they made their way past us Quack did what any drunk Quackenbush would do, he took a swing and the poor guy. A bouncer immediately grabbed him and escorted him, and the rest of us, outside. As we were exiting, above the sounds of the bizarre conga line, you could hear Quack shout these words at the opening act……..”I’ll be waiting for you in the parking lot and I’m gonna kick your ass”. Well we didn’t wait around for the comedian to leave the club and fall victim to Quack’s seriously intended threats. We calmed him down, got in the car, and went home.
About 6-8 months later on a week night I was sitting in my families den with my Dad watching TV. He was watching a lame variety show called something like The Dick Van Dyke Summer Replacement Show. I was reading a magazine and half heartedly watching the show. Now you need to understand that my Dad was cut from the same cloth and raised in the same place as a well known character of the time, Archie Bunker. He was never bashful about speaking his mind and is never one to be what we now call politically correct. So when he said “Look at this wack-a-doo, they’ll let anyone on TV these days” I didn’t think much of it. Then I looked up at the TV and HOLY SHIT….THAT’S THE GUY QUACK WANTED TO BEAT UP!!!! Yep, that beyond lame comedian had somehow made his way to major network national TV. I was stupefied, how the hell could this have happened? As I watched it seemed like the guy was melting down, just like he did that night at Ubies, right there on my TV screen. This audience wasn’t “getting it” either and it was all very uncomfortable to watch. I told my dad the story of what had happened that night and he said something like “This guy looks like he needs a good ass whupping, he’s not funny, that’s for sure”. The next day I asked all my friends if they had seen “Mr. Unfunny” on TV and none of them had. They found my story hard to believe, how the hell did THAT clown get on TV. But over the next couple of months they all believed me. This guy was popping up on TV on almost a weekly basis and shortly thereafter appeared on our favorite show Saturday Night Live. And somehow, he was starting to be funny. Weird, but yeah, kinda funny.
I’m now 50 years old and there have been very few comedians during my lifetime that I think are truly genius. Lenny Bruce was one and his legacy is both groundbreaking and important. It’s unfortunate he died so young as it would have been interesting to watch his comedy evolve through the tumultuous late 60’s and 70’s. Bill Hicks is another. A guiding light through the chaos of ignorance and hypocrisy and another one that was taken way too young. And then there is that also deceased crazy ass fool we first saw open for our beloved Good Rats. You know him as Andy Kaufman.
Rich Haupt is a noted music industry outsider and nationally recognized
non-entity. Co-founder of the Rockadelic Record label in the late 80’s his
passion for vinyl has consumed his life and made it difficult to maintain
personal relationships. He does not own a cell phone.