Every season comes with its own accompanying soundtrack; certain songs and albums that fit the mood and the climate to a veritable tee. Likewise, there is some music that just does not work in certain seasons, like, for example, reggae in the darkest depths of winter. Now that the splendor of autumn is in full, colorful swing, I find myself returning to certain discs that suit the light and temperature and evoke autumns of decades past.
One such album is Each Man Kills The Thing He Loves, the debut album by Gavin Friday & The Man Seezer. Though he'd found his initial renown in Dublin's Virgin Prunes, an endearingly difficult and artsy gaggle that combined elements of post-punk, goth, glam and experimental theater into a thrilling and often horrifying mix, Gavin Friday largely abandoned the more confrontational aspects of the by-then-defunct `Prunes in 1988 in favor of the dramatic trappings of vintage cabaret music. Hooking up with versatile multi-instrumentalist Maurice "The Man" Seezer and storied cinematic producer Hal Wilner, Each Man Kills... was a striking departure for Gavin Friday.
I'd been a slavish fan of the Virgin Prunes' sophomore LP from 1982, ...If I Die, I Die from a couple of years earlier, after a husky Irish co-worker at an eatery I'd been washing dishes for extolled its demonic merits to me in the summer of 1986 (I wrote at some length about same here back in 2005). After immersing myself in the band's bedraggled dissonance, I started the follow the Virgin Prunes, but wasn't as enthused about their latter efforts, which found them swapping aggression for foppish new romanticism, like so many other bands of the day.
By the fall of 1989, I'd graduated from college and was interning paylessly at SPIN Magazine. In lieu of income, I handily helped myself to stacks of LPs, cassettes and compact discs that were otherwise discarded by the weary, jaded and underpaid editorial staff, along with a handsome amount of SPIN t-shirts and coffee mugs. In any case, one afternoon while doing some menial task like alphabetizing the press releases, I heard the distinctive, immediately recognizable voice of Gavin Friday come warbling out of the cubicle of a senior editor named Christian. I poked my over the divide and politely asked, "Is this the new Gavin Friday?" She looked at me suspiciously (which was pretty much how she always looked at me) and then raised her eyebrows, wondering how this insufferable college brat knew who Gavin Friday was. Probably in an effort to get me to leave her alone, she slammed her finger down on the eject button, restored the cassette to its case and basically thew it at me. Such was my first hearing of Each Man Kills The Thing He Loves.
Light years away from the deliberately unsettling caterwaul of the early Virgin Prunes, Each Man Kills... exuded a stylish sense of elegant decrepitude, like a Christopher Isherwood novella scored by Jacque Brel (whom Friday covers on the album with great, zealous aplomb). Filled with world-weary melodrama and rich atmospherics, the record truly conjured its own sepia-toned realm that seemed a million miles away from my shrill reality (i.e. transcribing dead-on-arrival interviews with go-nowhere bands over the brain-deadening din of Right Said Fred's "I'm Too Sexy," on seemingly permanent rotation on SPIN's in-office sound system). Each Man Kills The Thing He Loves swiftly became one of my favorite albums of all time, and it remains so to this day. Your life will be enriched for owning it.
Okay, so where am I going with all this? Hang in there.
A big part of the album's atmosphere came augmented by the distinctive photography of Anton Corbijn. If you're unfamiliar with the Dutch shutterbug in question, you'd still doubtlessly recognize his dark, moody portraits of bands like Depeche Mode, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds and Gavin Friday's bosom buddies in U2. For the Each Man.. sleeve, Corbijn shot Friday and Seezer holed up in what looked like a crumbling speakeasy, lounging wistfully near an antiquated jukebox (doubtlessly trilling something appropriate like Edith Piaf) while an inexplicable nude couple embraces in the corner. Again, C+C Music Factory this was not.
For years, I was curious as to the location of this photograph, assuming it to possibly be a club in Dublin Friday co-owned called The Blue Jaysus. It wasn't until some time later that I bothered to fully read the liner notes to glean that it was actually shot at an establishment right here in New York City called The Blue Willow. Even after I learned that, though, I just sort of took it for granted. This was before everything I found cool about New York City started to vanish on me.
As it turns out, The Blue Willow was a restaurant on the northeast corner at the intersection of Broadway and Bleecker Street, in a building commonly referred to as the Bleecker Tower, a very stately building that you'd probably recognize (it even made a brief cameo in "Ghostbusters", see below).
In any case, by all accounts, The Blue Willow was a pretty stylin' place, although I was unable to find any photographs of the interior outside of Gavin Friday's sleeve. It was evidently only open between 1983 and 1990, about a year after Each Man Kills The Thing He Loves was released. Given that I'm so enraptured with this album, I thought it would be interesting to see what was going on in that room today, twenty-four years after those photographs were taken. So off I went.
I'm not entirely positive what happened at 644 Broadway immediately following the demise of The Blue Willow, but today, it's a rather cloyingly douchey menswear emporium called Atrium. Bohomoth, a website that makes a very dubious claim to being "the quintessential guide to New York City," describes Atrium as being known for its "hip, fashion-forward designer accessories." I stepped into the place this weekend, and it immediately repelled me, but let's face it, despite being male, I'm not exactly their target demographic.
In any case, the liner notes for Each Man Kills cite the album cover photographs as having been taken in "the backroom" at the Blue Willow. Today, sadly, said backroom has been basically split into two chambers that play host to Atrium's shoe department. The floors look pretty much the same, but the endearingly rustic interiors of the old Blue Willow are long gone.
If I'm not mistaken, the window box in the right hand half of the cover (where you see Maurice Seezer seated in front of a piano) is now a doorway to the alley behind the building (see below).
The only real visual leftover from the Blue Willow's years that remains is the wide, lustrous marble trim around the two portals that lead to the backroom, one of which having since been plastered up (see below).
I'd originally intended to reproduce my own version of the album cover, but with the room now divvied up as it is, it was nigh on impossible. Moreover, the Atrium staff weren't exactly too pleased to have this weirdo wandering around the shop, not buying anything and taking random pictures.
In the ensuing decades since the release of Each Man Kills the Thing He Loves, I've continued to follow Gavin Friday. On the tour for that first record, my friend Rob and I saw him perform at CBGB, a venue he seemed somewhat unimpressed by. A little time after that, Friday came back and played a spirited show at the Bottom Line. Like the Blue Willow, both CBGB and The Bottom Line are now gone. A couple of years alter, I had the pleasure of spending a long afternoon interviewing Friday at his manager's office down on White Street in TriBeCa on the eve of the release of his second album, Adam 'n' Eve on 1992, and caught an intimate performance of his later that same evening at Sin-E on St. Mark's Place. Like The Blue Willow, CBGB and The Bottom Line, Sin-E is also now gone. The final time I saw Gavin Friday perform was during his tour for his 1995 album, Shag Tobacco. For that event, he played another intimate gig, this time in the way West Village at the WestBeth Theater. And, yes....like The Blue Willow, CBGB, The Bottom Line and Sin-E, The WestBeth is also gone.
Enjoy what's left of the city while it's still here.