Friday, September 25, 2009

Tearing Down the Continental

Oddly enough, John Hartford’s song “They’re Gonna Tear Down the Grand Old Oprey” is going through my head right now because I just found out that Buffalo’s punk landmark, the Continental, is being torn down.  The Ryman Auditorium was saved.  The Continental has been doomed to its fate for several years.

I began going to the Continental in early 1982.  My new best friend Kim dragged me there – a group called 1.4.5 was playing that night and after somehow ending up in a closet for a brief smooch with one of the band members (Ducky), I became totally hooked on going there – 2, 3, even 4 nights per week.

As more of a teetotaler than a drinker,  I began bringing my camera and I spent all of my money on film and processing and fell into documenting several of the bands that caught my fancy – how I wish I had thought to take more photos of the patrons, the staff and of course, my friends.  I believe I have a photo of Frank and one of Bear, but I do not have a single photo of Bud Burke!  I have hundreds of photos of the Fems and not one of the Goos!

Even though I was in my thirties when I started going there, I think of the Continental as my second high school – only this time I got to hang out with the cool kids.  Many graduated with flying colors from their years at the Continental School of Rock, many flunked out with equally flying colors, and way too many souls were lost along the wayside.

Most of the best friends I have today can be traced back to the Continental.  This goes for real life friends and Facebook friends.  The Continental was a marvelous motley mosaic of freaks and geeks, gays and straights, punks and poseurs, young and old.  What tied us all together was the music – live bands: local, national and international playing on the scummy little stage – and the throbbing dance music playing upstairs on the mirrored dance floor.  And of course the never-ending parade of fashion and hair and makeup and jewelry.

“Hey, did you know that guy who used to go to the Continental?  You know who I’m talkin’ about – the guy in the black leather jacket…”  “Yeah, I knew him.”

For those of us without cable TV, we got to see music videos on the big screen.  I still hunt these down on YouTube and think of the Continental.  “Smack Jack,”  “Heroes,” “Mexican Radio,” “Safety Dance.”  Talking Heads, Psychedelic Furs, Devo, Ramones, Shakin’ Stevens.

The music was so deafening that the building shook, the stench of the place was indescribable and unforgettable – the floor was sticky, the rest rooms were disgusting. I once bought slide bolts and installed them in the ladies room stall doors and Bud was so astonished and pleased he presented me with a bottle of Champagne.  These door locks lasted about a week.

The Continental rocked along for years after I stopped going there for anything but the Fems’ Christmas show.  To me it was just not the same old place anymore after the stage got moved into the back and the patio was mostly closed and of course the people were all strangers to me and everyone was so young or maybe I just got old.

I dunno, but the Continental will always be in my heart and for that I thank Kim for dragging me there, and Mark Freeland and his multitude of talented friends for the music and Bud Burke for bringing the whole thing together for as long as he did.

“Everyone is trying
To get to the bar
The name of the bar
The bar is called Heaven
The band in Heaven
They play my favorite song
Play it once again
Play it all night long”
(David Byrne & Jerry Harrison)