This is all, of course, only my opinion.
Look, it’s no mystery that I don't like John Varvatos. Not just because he’s a fatuous fashionista who has slavishly attempted to appropriate the legacy of CBGB by opening up his bespoke boutique in its beleaguered footprint, but it’s more that he just seems SOOOO DESPERATE to be accepted and taken seriously in the music community, despite the fact that he so clearly JUST DOES NOT GET IT!
Obviously, opinions differ greatly on these points, and I’ve certainly never met the man. That’s him up above, by the way. He’s the bald gent on the right sharing a microphone with the guy who very much isn’t Ace Frehley. Maybe Varvatos is a completely cool gent, but I think I speak for a large swathe of silly rock fans who take frowny offense to his monied reimagining of 315 Bowery. If you step inside this pricey haberdashery, you’ll find the walls floridly adorned with rock memorabilia. Varvatos’ affinity for rock n’ roll is presented well to the fore, but there’s something just so clunky about it. I mean, in the front, there’s a selection of lovingly presented album covers, but a huge number of them are from acts with absolutely zero connection to the former venue’s history. I mean, Rush, Bob Seger, Santana, Ted Nugent – these folks never trod the fabled boards in the rear of that room. Regardless of your stance on the argument, CBGB is as close to the Kaaba of punk rock as can be quantified. Why, then – if you’re so inclined on cultivating its enduring cool – clog the place up with invocations of acts who’d have never darkened its doors?
Another example of Varvatos getting it wrong is his latest campaign, featuring my childhood heroes (or two of them, at least) in KISS. As much I’ll continue to defend my fandom for (vintage) KISS `til I’m purple in the face, having them team up (doubtlessly for a princely sum) with John Varvatos to play within the former walls of CBGB (a venue they very certainly never played) just feels, well …. WRONG. Again, as much as I love KISS, they almost single-handedly define everything the original alumni of CBGB set out destroy. KISS embody excess, artifice and avarice (by their own admission), and even though they paired down their stage show (attempting to give a not-so-subtle nod to their comparatively stripped-down days circa Dressed to Kill), they remain one of the very last bands that belong on that particular stage.
YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG, JOHN!!!
Check out the clip of same beneath.
The self-mythologizing bluster of Messrs. Simmons & Stanley notwithstanding, it’s a pretty hollow stunt. “John Varvatos invited 200 guests to 315 Bowery for an intimate performance,” reads the preamble, “They were not told who they were about to see.”
Translation: They probably weren’t actual KISS fans.
The whole thing just reeks of self-congratulatory exclusivity. And money.
My third quibble with Varvatos has to do with a book he's hawking on his website, that being "Rock in Fashion." Is it a surprise that he's published a book about his dual loves of music and style? No, of course not. Ostensibly, there's nothing wrong with that. And I should point out that I've never cracked the binding on this tome, although the fact that it costs sixty big ones doesn't suggest that I will anytime soon. I know I shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but.....
To grace the stately and lovingly bound front of this handsome coffee-table text, Varvatos selected a storied Mick Rock photograph of Syd Barrett, then recently deposed from the ranks of the nascent Pink Floyd, circa the troubled recording of his debut solo album, The Madcap Laughs. Under the bedraggled apparition of the late Floyd leader is the legend, "JOHN VARVATOS -- Rock in Fashion."
Why does this bother me? Well, here's where the pedantic rock geek in me (never far from the surface) gets really testy. Photographer Mick Rock was a good friend of Barrett's, and captured the then-notoriously fragile musician in some disarmingly candid and fraught images. By even the least passionate accounts of the recording of The Madcap Laughs, it is well established that Syd Barrett was stealthily unravelling. While he may look like an insouciantly cool cat in that photograph, even passive Floyd fans know that he wasn't entirely "all there" at the time.
As I understand it, the car pictured behind him had been a gift that he'd simply left on the street to rot and erode (there's another image from the shoot with a police sticker on the windshield warning its owner -- an impartial, dead-eyed Syd -- of its dereliction). Over the ensuing decades, Mick Rock's pictures of Barrett have become synonymous with the musician's tragic legacy. While striking and genuinely iconic, I'm not sure it's appropriate that they should be used to celebrate Syd's fashion sense, an infinitesimally incidental portion of the narrative. But, again, Varvatos doesn't get that. Clothes, I guess, are his big thing.
Much like my tongue-in-cheek indictment of that insufferable Counting Crows guy, I suppose I shouldn't be so hard on John Varvatos, given that we obviously share so many common interests. I just wish he'd try a little harder to actually get it right.