This is Superfluous Conversations, a weekly occurrence in which I document a conversation I have with someone intelligent, attractive, unpredictable or just generally spectacular. This week’s conversation took place Friday October 6th, 2012 at BLK MKT in The East Village at about 11:00PM. Rock legend Jesse Malin was kind enough to treat me to a beverage at one of his fine establishments (Jesse is the enigmatic co-owner of the watering holes Niagara, BLK MKT, Blackbird and Cabin). His glam rock band D Generation rose to fame in the ‘90s. Now Jesse is a solo artist who collaborates with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Ryan Adams, and Green Day. I could listen to Jesse regale stories from “the good ‘ol days” until the sun peeks over the horizon. He is the physical embodiment of old school New York rock, and he continues to play this impossibly cool character every day. Here, we chat about what Springsteen is really like, the now famous Joe Strummer mural, and his connection to Kerouac.
You own all of my favorite bars in Manhattan.
I don’t own them all outright. It’s me and a few friends. As a musician, you have this Frank Sinatra fantasy where when you’re not playing music, you wanna hang out and listen to music and talk about music and have some kind of guitar mafia.
How did it all happen?
When I opened my first club on St. Marks, the mayor was Giuliani and they were coming down on dancing and nightlife. It was like Footloose. The first five years was a lot of a crazy decadence, trying to relive what we had read in the magazines about Studio 54. Then me and my buddy Johnny T decided we really wanted a little classic corner bar, and we found Niagara on the park. It’s weird how locations pick you. I used to play at a club called A7 on bills with the Beastie Boys, and A7 is where Niagara is now. Before A7 it was called Wally’s. There’s a photo of Jack Kerouac taken by Allen Ginsberg looking into what was Niagara in the ‘50s. We found out we had this little basement, so we started doing things down there. Art galleries, bands, a tiki bar, then a VIP room, and then that morphed into a VIP bar called The Cabin with our friend Matt Romano and his pals. We have a policy that touring bands can come and drink for free. A bar for me is, minus all the people that get really dark with it, some sort of spiritual church.
Cabin is like a clubhouse.
It is a clubhouse. It’s so funny, you put a couple of bands and actors in there and you tell people they can’t come in and they just go crazy to go in there. But it’s not really about elitism or anything like that. It’s about a family and a community of people and friends.
If everyone that owned and worked at Cabin, Niagara, Black Market joined forces and formed a megaband, you’d be the raddest band in New York.
Me and Johnny T and Ryan Adams had a band called The Finger under fake names. I was Irving Plaza on base. We all jam together in some way. But we have our different worlds. I go out on my tours and Matt will go out with The Strokes or with Albert Hammond, and Johnny will go out with Ryan Adams. I think that the love of music is the bottom line, and there’s a brotherhood in that way, a family thing. And we also get away with things. Like you said, it is a clubhouse in a basement.
Tell me about the famous Joe Strummer mural.
People walk by and see the Joe Strummer mural on Niagara and take 150 photos a day. It was an accidentWe had to make a video for the guy when he passed away. How do you do a video for a guy who’s dead? A buddy of mine who did all Joe’s artwork had this idea to do what they do in the Lower East Side community when someone dies. They do a rattle can style Latino spray paint mural memorial. Then we all went and hung out in front, Steve Buscemi, me, the guys from Rancid, we put flowers down and we all thought about Joe and that became the video. It’s coming on 10 years, December 22nd I believe, since Joe’s Death. And we’re going to have a celebration of his life at Bowery Electric with the charity Strummerville, and a lot of different artists are going to sing Joe Strummer or Clash songs and the money is gonna go to his charity. I miss him, but the music lives on.
It’s amazing to hear the story of that mural. When I was looking for places in the East Village on Craigslist that photo was included in apartment listings.
Yeah, as an iconic image that exists in the neighborhood.
Wow. It’s been painted over and fixed up a bit. People have written some stupid shit. Swastikas aren’t sexy.
As a Jew I agree. Tell me about Bruce Springsteen.
Oh man. I got into it through my dad. I was always into punk rock, and I didn’t really understand the long solos on the saxophone and the 10 minute songs. I didn’t get it until I heard the record Nebraska. He was a billionaire, this huge rock star, and I really started to connect to what he was singing about, and I became a big fan. When I finished my first solo album, I said to the producer Ryan Adams, “I really want Bruce to hear this record for some reason.” About a month later I got a phone call from my manager and he said Bruce is going to call you up he wants to talk to you. I thought they were joking. Three days later he called and we were on the phone for like 3 hours, and he asked me to do some holiday charity shows with him. The guy just loves music. We did a duet together, a song I wrote about my mom who passed away when I was 17 years old. It’s called “Broken Radio.” It was pretty wild to write the song in my little apartment on Rivington Street and then to be sitting there, like wow, I’m singing this with the guy who fucking did Darkness at the Edge of Town and The River, and he’s singing a song about my mom. He’s very giving, very down to earth, a lot of heart, a lot of soul, and very young. He’s 63 years old. I went to his birthday show and he played for three hours and 45 minutes in the rain. He really lives it. He’s not some jaded old rich fucking boring lame ass dead beat. He’s still vibrant and hungry and still seeking the truth and still seeking a good time.
What’s your favorite animal?
I love lots of animals, I’m a vegetarian. I like mutts because they aren’t part of the Aryan race of dogs. I like sharks because they’re always moving forward and if they don’t stop moving forward they die. That’s very Woody Allen.