“Is it weird that I like this smell?” asked TL as we stepped out of the D train and onto the corner of Chrystie and Grand. A stunning stench of wet paper, rotting fish and shitty pleather handbags, the streetcorner in Chinatown was no bucket of rose petals.
“…yes,” replied TDS while we decided which side of the street to cross. We were looking for 131 Chrystie Street, and tried to spot building numbers buried in a word search of Chinese characters (“Ugh, everything’s written in Asian,” joked our half-Chinese friend ALiCo). After a short jaunt in the wrong direction, we found our way there. Past closed up grocery stores, bundled up homeless men on benches and wet sidewalks littered with a smattering of early fall’s yellow leaves, was Home Sweet Home.
Every Friday night at Home Sweet Home is the funky fresh dance party called “Shakin' All Over Under Sideways Down!”, the brainchild of acclaimed DJ Mr. Jonathan Toubin (yes, both DJ and Mr.) The party features “maximum rock and soul dancing,” to grungy fifties and sixties (and occasionally seventies) blues, jazz, and R&B deliciousness. We’re talking for real old school, like Little Richard’s “The Girl Can’t Help It”—the kinda stuff our parents and grandparents weren’t supposed to listen to.
“Shakin’!” is just one of the parties Toubin runs almost nightly known as “New York Night Train.” All of the parties involve virtually only 45rpm records of the early rock and soul variety and a whole lotta dancing. I love me some dancing no matter what form, but New York clubs tend to be expensive ($20 cover? Ouch.). When I read that the Night Train parties are $5 or less, though, I simply had to get on board.
Who would go with me? My Etas (our college crew of twentysomething disaster areas; short for Eta Alpha Mu, long for HAM, short for Hot Ass Mess) were coming to visit. And sometimes it’s just better to try something out with a bunch of people who simply won’t say no to a good time. So there we were: TL, TDS, EH, ALiCo, Krito, SC, JCB, and me (Eta President-for-Life RE sadly couldn’t be there).
“Is this 131?” I asked the brunette girl with the choppy bangs. “Yeah,” she laughed as she checked our IDs and sent us below street level, down the steel stairs to a brick alcove lined with darkly comedic taxidermy. A curly-haired girl stamped our hands and took our $5. Normally the party was $3 (if you know the password, so they can “root out the d-bags”), but tonight was special.
Punk legend David Johansen of the New York Dolls would be spinning along with DJ Mr. J, and I could barely contain my excitement. I would be in the same room as the voice of “Vietnamese Baby,” “Puss in Boots,” and countless other early punk gems, a man who was one of the unwitting godfathers of an entire music and cultural movement.
We entered the bar, which is about as close to the literal definition of “hole in the wall” as you can get, with walls of brick, a floor of concrete, and exposed pipe up above. A disco ball with the word “Wierd" happily misspelled on it spun over the dance floor while cardiganed and plaid-shirted hipsters flapped their arms and feet in strangely cool-looking and jerky movements. We put a little Eta bump and grind into our steps because, well, that’s just how we roll.
DJ Mr. J was spinning when we got there but eventually David Johansen took the booth. “Ohmygodthereheis,” Krito and I whispered to each other, fully aware unlike many others that we were in the presence of greatness. He was a skinny thing, with shoulder length hair pressed into the shape of a perfect upside-down U, thick, round black glasses and a long-sleeved t-shirt that read “Village” instead of “College.”
He played some sweet jams, and I even recognized his voice on a couple of tracks. Comically enough, though, he wasn’t the greatest DJ, leaving a rather large pause between songs—an act at which the dance crowd repeatedly groaned. Well, okay, maybe punk gods weren’t meant to be DJs. But that doesn’t mean he’s any less cool when you go outside and end up standing less than 10 feet from him while he smokes a cigarette.
Overall, though, the party was great—I would gladly descend into a hole in the wall for some old school jams, riding the New York Night Train until it falls off the tracks.