About twenty years ago, I had the unlikely honor of working alongside a hilarious character named Kris Needs at an infinitesimally small independent music magazine called The New York Review of Records. A little prior to that, I'd sorta known Kris as one of the gents behind the register at age-old downtown punk rock stronghold, Bleecker Bob's. When my editor/taskmaster at the N.Y.R.o.R., Brad B., formally introduced me to Kris, I was all "oh yeah, you're the dude who sold me that rare Alien Sex Fiend LP." Little did I know at the time that Kris -- that's him in the shot above, taken in the summer of 1991 -- was more than just another scenester with an enviable t-shirt collection.
A then-lanky Brit with straggly Nick Cave hair and an endearing wit, Kris quickly became a constant source of insight and amusement. Crashing on Brad's couch for a number of months (Brad's home doubled as the magazine's "office"), Kris leant his considerable experience and expertise to our humble editorial efforts, as years prior to coming to New York City in the early 80s, Kris had been the editor of a pivotal music zine during the nascent days of British Punk called Zigzag. Upstart that I was, I was prone to blithely bluster and wax rhapsodic about my heroes in bands like Killing Joke, The Stranglers and The Clash, but Kris was actually friends with all those guys and had actually "been there" (ala "Losing My Edge") during many of that movement/phenomenon/cultural shift's seminal moments. He actually even recorded with members of the Clash under the name The Vice Creems (their notable single being "Danger Love"). By the same token, however, his self-effacing wit and constant thirst for new stimuli prevented him from similarly bloviating about it or lording it over others. More to the point, while all things punk still consumed my attention, Kris had more than moved on. Though he still looked a bit like a member of G.B.H., Kris, by that point, had completely immersed himself in Hip-Hop and Trance.
But even while he had me cracking up all day (when not playing heroically obscure vinyl or making surreally funny asides between swigs of malt liquor, Kris wrote sublimely irreverent reviews under the nom-de-plume "R.S. Hole"), Kris was having problems. Perilously close to financial destitution while battling a couple of formidable personal demons, he was often in a bad way. At the same time, he was tirelessly determined to make things right. Along with his writing, Kris was also working on a trance act called Secret Knowledge (a project whose music I completely misunderstood at the time but have since grown to appreciate). How he able to juggle all these elements and still stay alive was truly a mystery.
Eventually, Kris was forced to vanish back to England, and I was truly sad to see him go. But it was pretty clear that if he'd stayed on the trajectory he was on, it wasn't going to end well. In relatively short order, however, Kris re-found his footing. Back in the U.K., Kris hooked up with Primal Scream and became a successful D.J. A little while later, his Secret Knowledge disc, So Hard came out (import only, alas). Somewhere in there, he also got clean and sober. A little while after that, he even published his own goddamn autobiography, the eye-opening "Needs Must." Since then, he's penned a couple of more authoritative books on The Clash, The New York Dolls and a few others. I've had a few old friends and former colleagues from those days in the early 90s go onto big things (Neil Strauss was another N.Y.R.o.R veteran), but the success story I'm most encouraged by and proud of is Mr. Needs'. I saw him in some pretty unhappy states, but he was never anything other than totally friendly and cool with me, and he truly deserves all the good things that later came to him.
So why am I prattling on about Kris Needs two decades later? Well, Kris' latest venture is a truly ambitious series called "Watch the Closing Doors: A History of New York's Musical Melting Pot." As besotted with NYC as I, Kris has compiled a sprawling collection of music and text into a 2CD, 32 track collection with a 68-page book. This first volume concentrates on the city's jazz from 1945 through 1959, and it is a dizzying artifact to behold. The love and research that went into this thing is staggering, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. More to the point, I cannot wait for future installments of the series.
You can read more about the project in this excellent interview from The Quietus. Below is a teaser for it. You can find the CD at Other Music or you can simply order it here. Tell'em Flaming Pablum sent ya.