NEW YORK The city's rock 'n' roll history, from the Ronettes to Soul Coughing, came to unruly life Sunday night in a freewheeling eight-hour celebration at the Bowery Ballroom that combined storytelling with musicmaking.
"I was born and raised right here, and I've loved every minute of it," said the evening's surprise guest, former Ronettes leader Ronnie Spector.
Spector's performance, which included her version of punk legend Johnny Thunder's "You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory" (RealAudio excerpt) was the emotional high point of the night, dubbed "Rock in New York: The Sounds and the Stories."
The event also included a question-and-answer session with former New York Dolls leader David Johansen and a speech and a cappella performance from Tuli Kupferberg, co-founder of the '60s underground band the Fugs.
M. Doughty, former frontman of the recently disbanded '90s rock band Soul Coughing, played a solo acoustic set that included his former band's "Circles" (RealAudio excerpt) and "Is Chicago Is Not Chicago" (RealAudio excerpt).
Early on, Johansen, who is also known as party-rocker Buster Poindexter, made light of the debauchery of his days with his proto-punk band.
"It's not so different from what people do in a frat house except in drag," Johansen said.
"Handsome" Dick Manitoba, frontman of '70s punk-rockers the Dictators, also reminisced about what he said was a freer era.
"You could f--- with glee, you could shoot dope. ... I'm amazed that music came out of that stupor," he said.
The Fugs' Kupferberg got the night's biggest laughs with a spirited, unaccompanied version of his band's "I'm Doin' Alright," which includes the line "I'm not ever goin' to Vietnam/ I'm gonna stay right here and screw your mom."
The beat-poetry-inspired Fugs came together, according to Kupferberg, after he and co-founder Ed Sanders listened to Beatles and Rolling Stones records and said, "We poets can do better than these dipsh--s."
Punk Magazine co-founder John Holmstrom, meanwhile, told the story of an awards show that his seminal publication had the misfortune of scheduling for Oct. 13, 1978, the day after Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious was arrested in New York on suspicion of murdering girlfriend Nancy Spungen.
Overall the event, which was hastily organized over three weeks, went better than planned, according to George Tabb, who organized the musical side of the evening.
"We thought it'd be the Titanic, but we ended up with 'The Poseidon Adventure,' which isn't that bad," said Tabb, frontman for New York punk-rockers Furious George, and a writer for the weekly newspaper New York Press, which sponsored the event.
The show was conceived by producer and manager Giorgio Gomelsky, a veteran of rock scenes in London and New York. Gomelsky, who once managed Eric Clapton, also helped launch the careers of British rock groups the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds and Soft Machine.
Gomelsky had the event filmed for a possible future webcast and said he hopes to host similar happenings devoted to specific sub-genres of rock.