June 6, 1981

The Cigs Play Chicago.

We made it downtown with little difficulty and found the Space Place [which upon my first visit in 1980 had seemed inconceivably sordid to my small-town eyes]. The exterior was not half so horrible as I had remembered, although the interior turned out to have followed a natural and predictable course of erosion and corrosion since the time I last set unwilling eyes upon it. The neighborhood [the warehouse district] seemed more innocuous, although a punk seated on the curb before the door surrounded by empty six-packs of beer served as a precursor of what was to be expected inside. There were no thugs or goons inside the door taking the money this time; instead they resembled college students. I was informed by Diane that the level of persons who now patronized the place has sunk exceedingly and that now the evening’s crew was more likely to be college types and “weekend punkers” than to be the real item.

The college types at the door had lost the visitor’s list and lied about it, saying it didn’t exist, so we were in a quandary. [The band was supposed to get my whole group of Chicago friends inside for free.] I was sent inside after paying my last four dollars to go search upstairs for any of the Cigs. They were not in evidence, so I rejoined my fellows outside. We waited around the front door, slightly perturbed. I was not worried much at all, for I was sure the Cigs would come back from wherever they were and soon set matters to rights. My companions, however, were dubious. Soon enough, a Volkswagen bus pulled up across the street, and I gazed at it closely and saw familiar loved faces within, peering at our group on the corner. I detached myself and yelled “LOUIE LOUIE!” and groans and laughter came from the bus. They parked and I strolled over to meet them. I was met with warm grins and a hug from Emily and general enthusiasm and delight. We all began talking a mile a minute. I told them I got a good job at the bookstore [I had just graduated from IU and moved to Louisville], and they all were glad to hear that and congratulated me. They told me how their tour had been going, and that they were to stay in Hammond with Chuck Silver’s parents, who were going to wait up for them after the show with coffee and sweet rolls. Still talking away, we all entered the Space Place under the protection of the Cigs, and dispersed gratefully upon the third floor, where the action was to be.

The Cigarettes were scheduled to come on second, with the Problem Dogz on first and The Drag on last. The local newspaper of musical events had printed an ad for the occasion featuring a cartoon stripper removing a bra, with star-shaped pasties and a g-string, and I showed it to them, to their mixed horror, amusement and indignation. Emily begged it of me as a souvenir. The Problem Dogz were an utterly horrible and unbearable punk band, overamplified and vicious-sounding. They played the loudest and least artistically gratifying music I have ever had the misfortune to have to endure, and the Cigs and a majority of the patrons of the place skulked around in the outer rooms, where the noise was more bearable, though still grating. The cumulative effect was a very annoying one, and the Cigs began to lose their tempers as the Dogz refused to end their set on time. Gordon remained calm, with that eternally mischievous grin upon his face. I asked him why he always looked so amused, and it only made him grin more broadly. I talked to all of the Cigs except Tim individually, and gave Don my phone and address in Louisville. They gave me their Omaha, Nebraska poster, which had been made for them, featuring a silhouette of a little sharp-angled cubist man, dancing with a cigarette in his fingers. I was delighted. Omaha had been an excellent gig for them, it turned out, and they had been a great hit among the populace and played a palace among nightclubs, huge and luxurious and attractive, and gotten interviewed on the radio. [I may be getting Omaha mixed up with Lawrence, Kansas, where the live stuff on the CD was recorded at KOPN.] I was told that Chuck wanted them to repeat their Midwest Tour at the end of the summer, but they didn’t want to, preferring to play cities within a day’s journey of Bloomington. I said I would search out a spot for them to play in Louisville, and assured them all that they could stay with me. This was received warmly. We spoke of many small things as we waited out there, and got great comfort out of seeing each other once again. I felt very close to them, and full of affection for every member of the band. They are all such fine, talented people! I have complete faith in them and believe they can make it big if they try.

The first band at last brought their set to a close, to cheers, and then threatened an encore, to howls of despair and cries of “No more! No more, please!” I went to the door and yelled my bit, to the Cigs’ amusement, returning defeated, for the band struck out into one last loud and horrible piece. They finally ended, to general rejoicing, and the emcee took the stage and said “Goodbye to a band that REALLY SUCKS. And now, the Dancing Cigarettes.” They took the stage and began setting up as rapidly as possible, although there was still some delay simply because of the number of musicians and instruments. The crowd grew gradually larger, and watched the operations with some uncertainty, as the Cigs produced saxophones and steel hubcaps and home-made xylophones. At last they broke into their first number, “Down to Hell” and “The Worms Inside” medleyed together in the usual way. As the first bizarre number began, and the slow chant rang out {“Down to hell, down to hell we go”} the lighting by prearrangement began shifting from red to blue in time with the music, producing a most diabolical impression which the crowd instantly loved.

When “Worms” began, my contingent of people began dancing, and soon others joined in. The Cigs were by the end of the show a great success. Each number was danced to enthusiastically and was followed by applause and cheering (this time not in irony, as with the first band). Susan, especially, was bowled over by the band and their music, which surprised me and pleased me equally. The band played three new numbers, one of which was for all purposes basically a modern jazz number, which gave me quite a start. I began shouting “Louie Louie!” at the breaks between the songs, hoping to coerce them to play it. Anne and Ed joined in, but the Cigs made faces and said “We’re not playing that number tonight” in a snooty fashion. I screamed it again for all I was worth, and stamped as hard as I could, like a thwarted child, and the crowd laughed and the Cigs thumbed their noses at me from the stage and grinned. They never did play “Louie Louie” but they did consent to play an encore, after the emcee leaped on stage to enthusiastically direct the crowd into cheering for another song. They played “Wild Times,” which consoled me for the absence of “Louie Louie.” They played it like never before, and I danced more wildly to it, I think, than I ever have done since the Uptown party. I went at it so hard that I could barely last out the song, and I staggered and stumbled and nearly fainted and fell. I stopped my frantic movements and merely swayed in time to the music, my head reeling, my clothes drenched in sweat, my hair wet on my brow. I was utterly overwhelmed.

The show was over, and the emcee again took the stage to direct applause from the band. “The Dancing Cigarettes, folks,” he said, “from Bloomington, Indiana!” (At this point I screamed “Bloomington!” but was unheard above the great applause and cheers.) “If they come back to Chicago, we’re definitely going to get them!” the emcee finished. There was more cheering, and complete satisfaction all around. Anne, Michelle, Jeff and Sisley took off, and I remained with Susan to help the band load their equipment and talk to them. A group of people gathered outside to tell the Cigs how much they liked the show. John (“Butch”) playfully pretended to throttle me for yelling “Louie Louie!” all night, and then explained to the admirers how they did indeed play the song on occasion and what they did to it. Susan and I helped load the VW bus, and we stood about conversing. I invited them all to Louisville and pledged housing and support if they did come, and made sure they knew my number and address. Susan freely invited them to crash, which surprised me again, for she was usually reticent about houseguests. She was truly impressed by the band.

It was time to leave, and the bus loaded up and John and Gordon got ready to follow in John’s yellow car. They all called farewells, and I clasped hands with Michael and wished them good luck, and everyone waved as we walked away. Just as I rounded the corner, before I lost them to sight, I cupped my hands around my mouth and let fly one last “Louie Louie!” They cheered back at me and we parted.

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