I was trying to decide which episode in this loosely connected series of posts on music and me I would touch on this week. As I was looking over the list of ideas, in the background was the Rachel Maddow show talking about the Stonewall uprising. Well, duh, I’ll talk about GJ’s.
The location of GJ's Bar in Albany, New York.
GJ’s was a bar I lived over for a couple of years. The bar was on the first floor and I was on the third. Some of my most notable roommates lived with me in that apartment. I can briefly summarize. I moved there to live with my girlfriend, Amy, a girl I’ll call Junette and the niece of Henry Mancini. Junette was so loud when having sex that her boyfriend Mike wore earplugs and the police were often called by neighbors thinking there was a murder. Or wishing there was a murder. That was not her only annoying trait. Junette soon moved out and we had a huge party, playing Eric Clapton’s song “She’s Gone” over and over again. Police were once again called. Then Ms. Mancini moved out and took my girlfriend with her. The vacancies were filled by two people whom I’ll call Tashina and Ron. Tashina was a drop dead gorgeous bisexual African American model from NY with a shaved head (a bit rare in those days), and Ron was an authentic Cajun boy fresh from the Bayou near Baton Rouge.
One day Tashina asked to speak to me privately. “Honey, what do you do to get rid of crabs. Crotch crabs. Just tell me what to do and don’t tell anyone we had this little conversation, ‘kay?” I told her what to do.
Later that same day, Ron cornered me alone in the foyer. “Hey, my man, I do dee-claire I gotta bad, bad problem. How does a guy stamp out dem little bugs, dem baby micro-scopical crawdads down in the you know where, if you get my drift?” I told him what to do.
That made me laugh.
Then one day Tashina got a job back in the city and left, and that’s when Raheem moved in. Raheem was one of my favorite people ever and we became pretty good friends. He was a fugitive from the police, so I will not provide many details. Buy me a beer and I’ll tell you the most hair-raising story you’ve ever heard. Raheem eventually moved on as well, leaving a vacancy that was filled by a sequence of low-life felons and undesirables.
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Eventually, The Cat moved in. Again, one of my favorite people. The Cat always wore black, had a D.A. haircut and was a full-blown bodybuilder and generally very, very scary person. His twin brother was exactly the same but not as built, and every time the two of them got together and had a few beers, they would get into a fist fight. This brings us downstairs to the first floor to GJ’s for a moment, because that is usually where that would happen. The two of them would end up out in the street about to punch each other, occasionally taking a swing but mostly posturing and dancing around each other long enough for the local detectives who were never far away to saunter over, flash a badge and separate them. Like clockwork.
Ron stopped paying his rent about two months before The Cat moved in, and after one more month of that, The Cat and I threw him out. Then another individual moved in, who was the actual nephew of Carlos Castenada. No kidding. He was a total dweeb and also forgot to pay his rent for a few months. He had a lot of cool stuff, so when we took all of that cool stuff and put it on the curb, I kept a couple of his cooking pots and utensils.
I could go on and on, but I won’t. Because it is time to turn to GJ’s. The reason for the link between GJ’s and Stonewall is simply this: GJ’s was for a long time the only openly gay bar in the city. Later, a gay club opened up, and still later a few other more or less gay bars opened, but GJ’s was it for a long time. Interestingly, the bar was not owned by anyone who was gay. GJ’s became a gay bar simply because…well, it just did. The right place at the right time. Half the bartenders were gay, the other half not, more or less. And the same was roughly true of the clientele. The important thing about GJ’s is that it was a comfortable place, where everyone knows your name, where everyone was always glad you came, where everyone, gay or straight, felt their troubles were the same. Like Cheers. But almost everybody was a freak. Half the freaks were gay, half the freaks were straight and the other half were just odd.
GJ’s had a jukebox with exactly two kinds of music on it: disco and good. PJ, who always dressed as a sailor for Halloween and worked three night shifts a week in the bar, would unlock the jukebox and reuse as many quarters as the machine would take and load up the play list with pure disco. Donna Summer got a little richer every time PJ was bartending. Alternately, Steve the Biker and Tex the Cowboy would take half their pinball money and load up the play list with non-disco songs, mostly Rolling Stones. The beer was good and it was all done in good fun.
Every now and then (and don’t tell anyone this part, please) closing time would come around, and we’d pull down the shades and turn down the lights and have a private party for the next couple of hours. If a anyone had to leave, they could not come back because the doors were locked. Relatively speaking, the parties were pretty tame most of the time. It was just like having the bar open, except certain things happened that otherwise could not happen and certain things did not happen that otherwise would. I’ll let you use your imagination as to what those things were; it will probably be more interesting than the reality.
On winter afternoons, Biker Steve, Mike (the guy with the ear plugs), Marylou and Sue (new girlfriend and local sex worker, respectively) and I would hang out watching the snow fall (those were wintry years, statistically) and waiting for people to get stuck. Then we’d pile out of the bar and push them free. Over the course of a snowy afternoon, that would get sillier and sillier until finally they were pushing us out of the snow.
So what was the music we were playing in GJ’s? Offhand, I remember a few songs: “Tonight’s The Night” and other songs by Rod Stewart; “Higher And Higher,” Rita Coolidge; “Dancing Queen” by Abba; “Margaritaville” by Jimmy Buffet; “Hotel California,” Eagles; “Fly Like An Eagle” by Steve Miller Band (whom I just saw in concert a few months ago); “Stayin’ Alive” by The Bee Gees; “Lay Down Sally” by Eric Clapton; “Beast of Burden” by The Rolling Stone; various songs by Steely Dan; “Last Dance” by Donna Summer; and a lot of stuff by the Village People, Santana, some heavy metal and the Grateful Dead.
Those were the days. That music was kinda iffy.