Jersey Beat Music Fanzine

by Jim Testa

In 1980, an unemployed college graduate with very little idea of what he wanted to do with his life wandered into a small bar in Hoboken to see a band called the Bongos.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

My story is not unique, but it is uniquely my own. I had puttered around with the idea of working at a newspaper in college; I was damn good at grinding out the Rutgers Daily Targum when I was its managing editor. But the more I learned about the realities of the newspaper businesss (cub reporters back then spent most of their time on the phone, asking the relatives of the recently deceased “how they felt” about losing a loved one in an auto accident or grisly crime,) the less I wanted to get involved. Through a friend at college, I made a connection at the Aquarian Weekly, and did a fair amount of freelancing there, writing about movies and theater. For a minute, I fancied myself the next Rex Reed; but making the jump from profiling B-list movie stars (I interviewed Pia Zadora and Dom DeLuise in my prime) and penning $15 reviews for a suburban alternative weekly to an actual full-time paying job in that field seemed impossible.

And then I discovered Maxwell’s. It wasn’t dark and dangerouos and fairly forbidding like CBGB. It didn’t have velvet ropes and snooty doormen like Danceteria and the Mudd Club. It was like this magic little alternate reality were everyone knew everyone else, and everyone there was fabulous.

Somehow, I met and starting chatting with Ira Kaplan, whose column I devoured every week in the Soho Weekly News. And Ira introduced me to the Bongos, whom I interviewed for my friend Howard Wuelfing’s fanzine. One I started giving out free copies of that zine at Maxwell’s, suddenly I was one of the fabulous people too – a music writer, no less. Ira and his girlfriend Georgia invited me to come by on Sundays and play softball with “the gang” at an empty field across town. The weekly pickup games included people like Dave Schramm, Dave’s bandmate Fred Brockman (the best home run hitter in our little group,) Peter Holsapple, Bob Bert, Georgia’s sister Emily, and a guy named Will Rosenthal.

When my friend Howard’s fanzine folded, I took my scene report column (which I had cleverly called “Jersey Beat,” a pun on Liverpool’s “Mersey Beat” scene) and spun it off into its own fanzine. I wrote it on a manual typewriter, cut and pasted the stories and pictures onto typewriter paper, and had it run off at a printing shop that did business cards and stationery. Then I brought the pages home and stapled them together myself. I interviewed more bands and went to a lot of shows. I got to know the Feelies and the dB’s, danced to the Fleshtones, and celebrated New Year’s Eve with Husker Du.

Ira wound up marrying Georgia, Emily married Will; Ira, Georgia, and Dave started a band together called Yo La Tengo. One weekend, Bob handed me a record from his new band and asked me if I would review it. It was Sonic Youth’s “Confusion Is Sex” EP. We played softball well into the fall, but eventually the earlier sunsets and colder temperatures forced us indoors, so we’d spend Sunday nights at Bowlmor Lanes in the Village. There, bowling, I met an older guy named Bill Ryan, who wound up opening a record store in Hoboken called Pier Platters.

In 1984, my friend Howard moved from D.C. back to New Jersey and we started a band called the Love Pushers, with Jersey Beat writer Jim DeRogatis on drums and an upstart Mod kid from Maywood named Mick London on lead guitar. Our first show was at Maxwell’s opening for Half Japanese. We recorded some demos at Water Music, with Donna Croughn from Tiny Lights on violin. Later we recorded a Christmas compilation cover of Big Star’s “Jesus Christ,” with Speed The Plough’s Toni Paruta on sax. We played our last show at Maxwell’s too. It just made sense to do it that way.

My little fanzine made its way through the indie underground of the Eighties and by the end of the decade, I started getting invited to music festivals like the CMJ Music Marathon and SXSW. In the Nineties, I started writing “Constant Listener,” a weekly music column for the local daily newspaper, the Jersey Journal, which lasted until the dawn of the Aughts. When Green Day dragged punk into the mainstream, writers who knew the genre were suddenly in demand and doors I never dreamed of opened; I did features and reviews for Request, Sam Goody’s excellent house magazine, interviewed Bad Religion for Guitar World, and – thanks to Request’s Keith Moerer and my old friend Jim DeRogatis – even wrote for Rolling Stone. All the while I kept churning out Jersey Beat as regularly as I could; I got to meet and become friends with my heroes and favorite bands, too many to list.
I have slept on floors and couches and met musicians and made friends all across this country, in more cities than I can remember. I’ve shared a tour van with the Pink Lincolns in Florida, rocked to the Queers in Eugene, Oregon, dined on the Mission District’s best burritos with Pansy Division in San Francisco, watched a Cubs game at Wrigley Field with Ben Weasel, discussed Kerouac with Mike Watt, traded quips with Dr. Frank , shared a stage with Ted Leo, and seen the Wrens play a Hoboken loft naked.

None of that happens if I didn’t walk into Maxwell’s to see the Bongos back in 1980.

I still remember the first time Steve Fallon said hello to me by name. That felt like a major accomplishment at the time. We wound up having many long talks and share amazing memories. Todd Abramson allowed me the privilege to book Maxwell’s myself on many unforgettable nights, with bands like the Wrens, Milwaukees, and Ted Leo, the Ergs! and Cropduster, Tris McCall and Val Emmich, right up through Wyldlife and the Front Bottoms. Steve and Todd had the vision to imagine a place that would treat musicians with respect and hospitality, pay them fairly and treat them with dignity. That was rare back in the Eighties and Nineties; it’s virtually unheard of today. That is why they’ll be missed. It’s been said by many people – I’ve quoted quite a few of them, in the stories I’ve written in this last month – but it’s true. For so many of us lucky to have shared its magic, Maxwell’s didn’t feel like a rock club or a restaurant; it felt like home.

I owe a great many people a great many things, include my long-suffering and infinitely patient parents (may they rest in peace,) my wonderful family, supportive friends, the small army of writers, photographers, and artists who have contributed to Jersey Beat through the years, and a long list of employers willing to look the other way when I had my mind on music instead of work.
But I would not be the person I am, or have lived this life, if it weren’t for Maxwell’s.

Maxwell's Coverage On

Maxwell's says goodbye with block party (and Bongos)

Farewell, Maxwell's

Timeline of Maxwell's Unforgettable Moments

Jim DeRogatis says goodbye to Maxwell's

Local Acts Val Emmich, Bern & The Brights help send off Maxwell's

Titus Andronicus says good bye to Maxwell's

Jersey's Top 5 (Post Maxwell's) Rock Clulbs

Mission of Burma still loud and weird for Maxwell's finale

Maxwell's: Remember the MicroBrew years?

An Oral History of Maxwell's

The Feelies celebrate final 4th of July at Maxwell's

  is an independently published music fanzine covering punk, alternative, ska, techno and garage music, focusing on New Jersey and the Tri-State area. For the past 25 years, the Jersey Beat music fanzine has been the authority on the latest upcoming bands and a resource for all those interested in rock and roll.

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