There was a passage in the beginning of the book, however, that I've been itching to address here, but I haven't had the time to piece it all together until now. I'd known Dean was originally a New Zealander, but figured he'd emigrated to Boston (being that that's where Galaxie 500 were ostensibly from, despite their very New York-y sound). Well, as it turns out, Wareham and his family actually moved to New York City around 1977, and lived on the Upper East Side ... where I lived. As a matter of fact, Dean met future Galaxie 500 bandmates Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang at Dalton, a private school just down the road, so to speak, from where I went to school (that being St. David's). The only reason Boston came into their mix was when all three of them attended Harvard University.
Anyway, blah blah blah -- believe it or not, this post really isn't about Dean Wareham, although I do recommend the book. The fact that Wareham and I grew up in the same neighborhood was already resonating with me as I was reading, but then I came across the passage below and really lit up:
We bought our vinyl at King Karol Records on Eighty-fifth street and Third Avenue, where Bryan Gregory of The Cramps worked, or at Disc-O-Mat in Grand Central Station. We would venture downtown to Freebeing Records on Second Avenue (next to Gem Spa) and Bleecker Bob's on MacDougal Street, where I tried to get a job. "Who recorded 'In the Still of the Night'?" asked Bob himself.I didn't get the job.
Obviously, Wareham name-checking haunts like Bleecker Bob's and Freebeing strikes the predictable chords, and I, too, was no stranger to that Disc-O-Mat (it was fairly grubby at the time -- the space it once occupied is now a Banana Republic, I want to say). But it's the King Karol reference -- and the bombshell that Bryan Gregory allegedly worked there -- that caught me by surprise.
I've spent a lot of time rhapsodizing the many, vanished record shops of downtown Manhattan, but as a nascent rock fan during my grade school years in the late 70's and very early 80's (i.e. before I'd had the opportunity to explore all of Manhattan as an older and arguably savvier individual), I made do with the uptown options, and King Karol was certainly a regular stop. Perched, as Wareham cites, between East 86th and East 85th on Third Avenue, King Karol was a fairly straightforward store that didn't go out of its way to cater to any particular type of music fan or demographic. Off the top of my head, I remember buying my first David Bowie cassette there (Diamond Dogs), several 7" singles, and LP versions of Comedy is Not Pretty by Steve Martin and, in later years, Only Theatre of Pain by Christian Death and The Gospel According to the Meninblack by The Stranglers. Those last two selections might seem pretty exotic for a middle-of-the-road chain store like King Karol, but maybe their placement therein had something to do with their supposed former employee, the late Bryan Gregory.
For those who might be unfamiliar with him, Bryan Gregory was the original rhythm guitarist for psychobilly pioneers, The Cramps (I extolled the merits of this mighty band upon the sad demise of their towering lead singer, Lux Interior, a couple of times back in 2009, and more recently tracked down the site of a particular photograph of the band down in the West Village). While I'd certainly spied their name and endearingly creepy album covers over the years, I didn't get to lay ears on The Cramps' inimitable music until my freshman year of college in 1985, when I borrowed a copy of their debut album, Gravest Hits from a senior who lived down the hall. I remember being particularly struck by their high-octane cover of Roy Orbison's "Domino" and their equally bonkers rendition of "Surin' Bird" (also covered in similarly adrenalized fashion by their buddies in The Ramones -- who covered it first?) Below is Stephanie Chernikowski's photographs of the live Cramps experience, which graces the back cover of Gravest Hits. I believe this photo was taken at The Ritz. Click on it to enlarge and marvel at it.
In any case, the characters in The Cramps were completely larger than life. Beyond the celebrated couple of vocalist Lux Interior and Poison Ivy Rorschach on guitar, you had implausibly cool and immaculately bequiffed drummer Nick Knox, and then there was Bryan Gregory. A dead-ringer for a young, more feral Boris Karloff, Bryan Gregory invariably deserves more credit than he's ever received for creating a signature goth look. Slim, savage, sharply dressed and sporting a white, face-obscuring forelock of hair (the pre-cursor to the Misfits' devil-lock), Gregory's monstrous look was matched in equal parts by the furious din of polka-dotted, Flying V Gibson. The perfect fuzzy foil to Poison Ivy's vicious twang, Gregory's guitar-playing packed a modern, punky punch behind the band's more retro-leaning sonic aesthetic. Check out the breakdown on "TV Set" off Songs the Lord Taught Us for quintessential Bryan Gregory.
Anyway, while I became a rabid Cramps fan later in life, during the time that I was regularly patronizing King Karol, I invariably had no clue who they were, much less that one of their members might have been manning the register whilst I was purchasing albums by Kiss, Pink Floyd and Queen. It also boggles the mind to think that someone like Bryan Gregory would be able to stomach working on the staid, sleepy reaches of Yorkville on the Upper East Side, when I’d sooner imagine him working at likelier shops like Rocks In Your Head or something. Still, if Wareham is to believed, I guess Bryan just went where the opportunity was.
Not that I have any reason to doubt Dean's account, but the Wikipedia page about Bryan Gregory suggests that both he "met Cramps member Lux Interior at a mutual job they shared at a record store in NYC." Meanwhile, according to this sprawling article on the genesis of The Cramps, Lux and Poison Ivy first went into jam with Bryan Gregory and his drummer sister Pam Balaam in "the basement of the Musical Maze record store."
Some quick Googling asserts that there was a Musical Maze on 23rd street and Third Avenue, but I also seeeeeeeem to remember (and this is going really far back) that there was a record store on Third Avenue between 83rd and 84th (just a block south of that King Karol) that may have also been called Musical Maze (a spot fleetingly later occupied by a Crazy Eddie outlet prior to opening a bigger location (two floors) on East 86th between Lexington and Third Avenue.
Back to that King Karol, though, I’ve annoyingly had a devil of time finding any pictures of the King Karol in question. I didn’t have the forethought to snap one at the time (honestly, it wasn’t much to look at), but I can’t find any photographic evidence of its existence on that strip, which is a shame (if you have a picture – please let me know!) Today, the building that housed the store (along with a few other stores on that block) is no longer there, predictably replaced by a big, modern condo with brand new businesses on the ground floor. You’d really never know it was the same strip, alas. Here's a shot, prized from Flickr, of the strip King Karol was on (looking south from north side of East 86th).
CRAZY ADDENDUM: Spotted on WE ONLY NEED THREE CHORDS, check out this shot of the late Lux Interior of the Cramps "selling records at Musical Maze on Lexington at 85th." The plot thickens! To my knowledge, there was never a record shop on that strip of Lexington.
Like I said, the Musical Maze (if that's what it was called) that I seem to remember was on Third Avenue between 85th and 84th. My recollections of it are thin, but I recall standing in there, holding a copy of Kiss' Rock and Roll Over and being struck by all these Kiss albums they had that I didn't recognize (there was a reason for this.... they were bootlegs, a concept I couldn't get my head around at the time). I also remember a huge Judas Priest poster.