Saturday, November 30, 2013

Remembering Canal Street Tavern

Earlier tonight, Andy Valeri and the Rev. Cool did a radio show on WYSO that included a number of tributes to Mick Montgomery and the (soon to be gone) Canal Street Tavern.  I wrote a tribute of my own, recorded it on the old computer up in Oakley's room, and they played it.  I'm hoping at some point to get a nice recording of the show to post for download here for anybody who missed it.  In the meantime, here's the text of the tribute I wrote.  Because I wrote it for speaking rather than reading, you'll find a lot more capital letters, ellipses, dashes, and paragraph breaks than I would usually use.  Sorry about that:

The first time my old friend Ben Schelker ever got on stage and played music was at Canal Street Tavern.  This Dayton band called THE OBVIOUS were playing, and they invited him and a bunch of others to come up and sing the chorus on their cover of "American Band" by GRAND FUNK RAILROAD.  I remember Ben telling me he was so drunk that John Dubuc, the singer, had to punch him in the shoulder when the chorus came up.

The first time I ever got on stage, it was not at Canal Street Tavern.  It was on the back of a flatbed truck at Caesar's Creek.  I was in a cover band.  We played covers.  I distinctly remember playing Foreigner's "Hot Blooded."  I wore a fedora, in the middle of the summer, and a pair of Foster Grants.  It was 1985, and I imagined that Tom Petty also wore a fedora and Foster Grants whenever he played (but now I don't think he ever did).

A year later, I had discovered punk rock music and was playing in a hardcore punk rock band.  But we didn't play at Canal Street Tavern because Canal Street was for posers.  Good god!  THE OBVIOUS played at Canal Street.  PLEASURES PALE played at Canal Street.  THE HIGHWAYMEN played at Canal Street: POSER BANDS... from like... Centerville and Kettering and... Yellow Springs.  COLLEGE BANDS full of college boys from the suburbs!  (never mind that I was certainly college bound, AND grew up in Bethel Township)

But REAL BANDS... real hardcore punk bands... they played at the Front Street Warehouse... or The Building Lounge.  For the life of me, I can't remember now exactly what the difference was between The Building Lounge (which was a bar for REAL BANDS) and Canal Street Tavern (which was also a bar... just for poser bands).  But when you're young, you know everything, don't you?

A couple years later (1989 maybe?) as yet another band I was in broke up and another one began, I found myself playing in a band with this guy named Ben Schelker.  And Ben booked our first show at Canal Street Tavern.

Ben had played there many times with another band he had been in called THE UNDERDOGS.  So we played a Thursday night at Canal Street Tavern, and our friends and family came to watch.  We played with another local band called HANG'N'PRIDE.

I remember walking in that place for the first time, and seeing the church pews and a Woodie Guthrie poster on the wall and that long bar and the elevated theater-style seats in the corner near the bathrooms and thinking... "this place is for friggin' posers..."

We stowed our gear in that room by the door near the street.  That room we always referred to as "The Rock Star Room."  The walls of that room were covered from top to bottom with band stickers and graffiti in thick black magic marker.  Our bass player produced such a marker and (miraculously) found some empty real estate on those walls and wrote our band's name there.

When we were done playing and last call had come and gone and it was time to collect money, Ben and I entered this tiny little office -- and some big ol' hippie with a big ol' beard counted out about twenty bucks.  After that we probably went to Denny's on Brown Street, ate some Moons Over My-Hammy and eventually drifted home.  That was it.  I'm sure that as I fell asleep that night I bestowed not one thought on Canal Street Tavern or Mick Montgomery (he was the big hippie who counted out our twenty dollars in that little office) -- except that maybe I wondered what some of my friends would think of me for playing at a poser bar.

But for some reason, here in my house at three AM, twenty-four years later, I remember every detail of that night.  I could spend an hour describing the carpet on the stage, the exact height of the overhanging stage monitors, the pattern of the stained glass behind the stage, the chips in the finish on the piano that sat to one side.  I could tell you how hot it was outside the front door when I came out to smoke a cigarette -- and I could tell you about the texture of the concrete on those three steps leading up to the front door.  I remember everything.

When something you love is going away, the first place your mind goes is to the times when that thing seemed ageless and invincible -- when you gave no thought to its ever NOT being there.  You remember the times you had, the people you knew.

Over the past couple of months, after I first learned that Canal Street was indeed going away, I've thought a lot about those things.  I've thought about the many shows I played in the many bands I had over the years.  I've thought about playing on that old stage -- opening for ROYAL CRESCENT MOB or HAMMEL ON TRIAL.  I've thought about the many more shows I saw just as a member of the audience: THE KILLJOYS, WALLAROO SOUTH, LOVE LIES BLEEDING, THIRTEEN NIGHTMARES, SPECIAL PATROL, LIQUID DRAINO, THE PURE PLASTIC TREE, THE TAILGATORS.  I've thought about the shows my old band THE OXYMORONS used to play with THE OBVIOUS, and the one in particular where Greg Johnson got so drunk he fell into the Christmas tree.

I've thought about the show where, for some reason, I tried to spit a mouthful of beer at this girl I was going out with at the time -- and ended up spitting beer all over the stage monitors, and Mick Montgomery almost banned us from the place forever.  I've thought of the many nights I played Musician's Co-Op -- the open stage night -- and one in particular where I played a Pixies song acoustically that had tons of screaming in it -- and half the people in the place decided it was time to step outside for some fresh air.

I've also thought of the last time I saw Ben Schelker in person.  It was at Canal Street Tavern.  I don't remember why we were there, but I do remember we were in the bathroom.  I had just finished up at the urinal.  He came in as I was washing my hands.  I told him I was about ready to go home, but he said he was going to stay for a while.  I left.  He moved to New York a little while after that and then died in a freak accident about three years later.  So the last time I saw him was at Canal Street Tavern.

And the last time I played at Canal Street Tavern (the last time I was even in Canal Street Tavern) was for a tribute show to Ben.  It was about this time last year.

Anyway, remembering all those things....  well that's the FIRST thing you do.  But at some point, you also start thinking about the future.  When something you love has gone away, you HAVE to think about the future, you have to think about how things change.  Tomorrow night, after SHRUG plays the final show at Mick Montgomery's Canal Street Tavern, things will change.  It will not be Canal Street Tavern.  It will be something different.  And I wish the new proprietors the best in whatever plans they have for the place.

And this will not be the first change that the place we called Canal Street Tavern has had.

In 1981, a great guy (and big old hippie) named Mick Montgomery started a business where he booked live music in Dayton, Ohio, and he called that business Canal Street Tavern.

I honestly don't know what that building was called before that -- if it was called anything.  A friend tells me the second floor was a gym once, where her father used to go and work out.  I like that, and I wish I knew more.  I like to think that place has a history of its own that has a head, a body, and a tail that none of us will ever see completely.

I like to think all sorts of characters wandered in and out of that place, all with their own peculiar stories.  I like to think that people came together there... that they got drinks from the bar... sat and talked together... had adventures... and all of it happening ten or twenty or thirty years before I ever even knew it existed.  I like to think that twenty or thirty years from now, from THIS night... that a lot of people will be talking about this great place at the corner of First and Patterson, where all sorts of interesting stuff used to happen, and still does happen, one way or another.

Every place has stories to tell.  We knew this place as Canal Street Tavern.  We knew its stories.  But we don't know the whole story because the whole story hasn't happened yet.  And maybe some of us will continue that story, and maybe others we've never even heard of will continue it too.

By the way... Y'know that girl that I tried to spit the beer on but ended up ruining Mick's monitors instead?  Her name was Kristin Brucker, and she used to refer to Canal Street as "home."  --  "Home" -- because somebody would say, "Think I'll be at Canal Street later," and she would say, "You mean 'home?'"  And Kristin would say it with that pretty, knowing smile on her face that was so immediate and disarming.

She said "home" because "home" is where you go when you've got no place else to be.  NOT no place else to GO -- no place else to BE.  And for so many of us... for people who played there, hung out there, drank there, smoked there, talked there, kissed there, smiled and laughed there and got to know each other there -- that's exactly what it was: HOME... for a little while at least.

And that's what it was because that's what Mick made it.  Way back in 1981, Mick may have started as a business owner, but he became a homemaker.

Thanks for listening.
And thanks for reading too.  I'm not sure I'll make it down to Canal Street Tavern tonight for the last show.  I'm sure the place will be packed to the rafters, and to be perfectly honest, I think I'd like the last time I set foot in Canal Street Tavern to be the time we played there for Ben.  Then again, maybe nostalgia will get the better of me and I will be down there.  I have no doubt SHRUG will give the place the sendoff it deserves.

In any case, I will definitely be down at the corner of First and Patterson on Monday at 9 a.m. to be present when they take the sign down.  If you can possibly make it, I hope to see you there too.

Good night,


ps. I would like to thank Melissa Fowler for providing me with the fun fact about the second floor of Canal Street Tavern once being a gymnasium that her father used to work out in.