Backstage: From South Florida to New York to Hell and Back

Outside the Ed Sullivan Theatre, November 1, 2010: Elvis Costello
Outside the Ed Sullivan Theatre, November 1, 2010: Elvis Costello
Photo by Alisa Cherry

Music vet and New Times scribe Lee Zimmerman shares stories of memorable

rock 'n' roll encounters that took place in our local environs. This

week: visiting the Village and second-guessing Satan...

Unexpected encounters are often as entertaining as those that are

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planned. During a trip with my wife to New York this past week, my cousin stopped us during a stroll in Greenwich

Village and said, "Look, there's Lou Reed!" I

couldn't verify it because Lou was walking away from us and I caught

only a glimpse of him from the back. It's unsurprising that Reed remains fairly unobtrusive in a crowd, at least when

one glances at him from the rear. When

this supposed Lou Reed stopped to take a photo with a companion,

that added some credibility. Last time I was in the Village a dozen or

so years ago, I spotted Lou's wife, Laurie Anderson, in the

same environs. So, sure, why not?

That wasn't the only star sighting I had in New York, although another one was definitely deliberate. After bidding my cousin goodbye, we visited another great musician, Richard X Heyman and his wife, Nancy. Who's that? I figured you'd ask. Richard X Heyman is one of the best champions of power pop/retro rock during the past 25 years. Sadly, he remains all but unknown, but anyone who's heard any of his albums will attest to the fact that this is an artist who deserves widespread acclaim. We visited the Heymans' apartment, met each of their 13 cats (RXH was once a cat rescuer), and over dinner discussed his forthcoming double album, which he and Nancy are recording in the aforementioned apartment. "We wanted to call it The Greatest Album Ever Made," Richard said. Now that's a tall order, but getting a sense of his passion leads me to believe that at least it was his intent.

At the taping of Late Night With David Letterman we attended, Robert Downey Jr. and Elvis Costello were the guests that day. Afterward, we went around to the stage door and caught a glimpse of Elvis as he was leaving the building. There was a group of photographers present, and Elvis dutifully took a moment to pose for photos. We managed to get a quick shot ourselves, and in return Mr. Costello got my thumbs-up.

True, New York is the place for star encounters, accidental, incidental, or otherwise. And New York during Halloween can be especially intriguing. A guy dressed up as Tinkerbell could be costumed for the holiday, or it could merely be his thing. On the other hand, South Florida can be pretty spooky too -- quite literally, in fact. When I was working for Susan Brustman and Associates, a local PR agency, in the early '90s, one of our more extravagant projects was the planned opening of a somewhat wacky nightclub called Hell. It was located near the very tip of South Beach, around Third and Ocean, and, as its name implied, it was kind of a twisted adult spook house, not unlike the Jekyll & Hyde nightspots in New York City. It was owned by South Beach entrepreneur and mega-millionaire Thomas Kramer and designed by an artist who had worked with Hipgnosis, the British design group that had created surreal album covers for Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and a host of other prominent U.K. rockers back in the day.

Every room had a theme pertaining to one of the Seven Deadly Sins, and the detail was so precise that even the toilet seats were ominous-looking, being that they were fashioned from clear plexiglass in which razor blades and shards of glass were incased within. (Now, that would be hell, to put your butt on one of those seats!) There were urchins and devils and all sort of satanic-like personages occupying the premises -- and that was just the attendees! I know because I had to play the role of gatekeeper. That night, everybody wanted admittance, including Gloria Estefan, who swept inside with a gaggle of girlfriends, going room to room to check out the ghastly décor.

They were as giddy as schoolgirls and clearly having a blast. Meanwhile, Kramer was complaining because there weren't enough beautiful women adding to the ambiance. Perhaps he should have thought of that before he opted for a club where stomach-turning horror was the predominant theme. It would take a lot of beauty to make those digs look good, and while the South Beach hotties were clearly represented, a higher quota of models and glam types would be needed to moot the ugly imagery.

Ironically, Hell was short-lived. The club had cost a fortune, but on South Beach, where a couple of months is considered a lifetime, Hell was a mere flash in the proverbial pan. The place was closed down a mere two weeks later after the city cited it for code violations. All that time, effort, and cash gone to Hell... So much, then, for this particular house of Hades. Guess it proves that when you're in the midst of the planning process, the devil's in the details.

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