Friday, January 06, 2006

Beyond the Green Door

By Daniel Gale-Grogen

Major metropolitan areas with vital, self-sustaining and self-regenerating music scenes can withstand club closings, and they do so with the knowledge that the loss of a venue just means that a new one (or two) will open to take its place within a few weekends. Recent eviction/eminent domain issues surrounding the legendary Bowery punk club CBGB and Asbury Park's Stone Pony struck deep with music fans, but in the New York area, the possible demise of these bars was greeted in some quarters with shrugs -- to some, even a legendary venue is still just a place with a stage and a PA, and more stages and amps will come.

At the end of this month, the great Oklahoma City punk club The Green Door will be shuttered forever, a victim of a the financial misfortune of its owners and the vicissitudes of the touring industry. When it opened five years ago at its original location, 8911 N. Western, The Green Door was everything an alternative rock club should be: dark, low-ceilings, bad toilets, Newcastle Brown Ale and some of the best local, national and international music you could hear for less than $8 a pop, and it was glorious. Sure, it was in an ass-nasty part of town, the toilets were every bit as shit-tastic as the ones Hilly Krystal never had cleaned at CBGB, a permanent Camel haze hung just below the ceiling and the unpaved parking lot in back turned into a lake at even the hint of a drizzle, but it was ours.

Like any club owner who makes a visible dent in a scene, Reggy Wheat has as many detractors as friends, but history will be his vindicator. He hosted some of the best concerts I've ever seen in any city. He booked The White Stripes at The Green Door when only a few hipster doofuses even knew who they were, much less could sing a few bars from "Apple Blossom" or "You're Pretty Good Looking (For a Girl)." There was a Hot Hot Heat show at the old location in which the cram-packed crowd sang along to every single word from the Make Up the Breakdown album, and the only place it was being played was on 105.3 The Spy. People were acting like a bunch of God-fearers singing along to a Michael W. Smith song on one of those Time/Life Songs 4 Worship late-night commercials, and singer Steve Bays was one demented evangelist, jumping onto any surface that would carry his weight.

There were others great memories, like when the all-female Swedish garage band Sahara Hotnights played there, and the lead singer's boyfriend was working as their roady. The women acted like they had just sold out the Jacob Javitz Center, but the boyfriend was just chilling out, rolling cable and moving monitors. He just happened to be Howlin' Pelle Almqvist of the Hives, and he was more than happy to talk about the recording of Tyrannosaurus Hives and be gracious when we all acted like glaze-eyed fanboys.

It was also the site of one of the great experiments in local band community building, the Mix Tape Club shows. Local bands got together and paid tribute to their favorite artists: Bowie, the Beatles, the Clash, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd. The Pink Floyd show was particularly outstanding: an all-star local group built around The Fellowship Students played Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety, complete with Fillmore West-style liquid projections. They performed a similar feat with Abbey Road at the Beatles show, and they were pushing the ABLE commission time limits -- "The End" was played with the house lights on, with the final fadeout happening at 2 a.m., with Wheat screaming, "I'm glad you had a good time, now get the fuck out!" They never even got to play "Her Majesty."

When The Green Door moved to Bricktown, the great shows became bigger: The Electric Six/Junior Senior concert must have been 1,000 strong. Unfortunately, when The Spy went Tejano and the major concert tours started tanking, things dried up. The Wheats kept it going as long as they could, but by last year it was clear that The Green Door was on borrowed time.

There are other great clubs now, including the Conservatory (which now occupies the old Green Door location) and Opolis in Norman, but The Green Door opened the way for them. Now, Oklahoma City could revert to its old ways, playing bitch to Tulsa and wallowing in its "classic rock"/Nashville B-team ennui if these and future clubs do not survive to carry the standard. Here is hoping that, in a post-Green Door Oklahoma City, there will be clubs that double as living rooms for our hipster community, places where great bands will come because they heard there were great crowds who will hang out, scream for more, buy them drinks and let them sleep on their floor.


At 6:49 PM, Blogger Brit said...

Long before the Green Door there was Music Dimensions and a handful of punk bands that booked their own shows in old armories and rotting warehouses. Those were the formative nights that made up my youth in OKC. The year before I went to college the original KSPI went light rock, record shops closed, bands moved away.

The fact that these things can't (and never will) last in OKC is one of the main reasons I left it for a bigger city.

At 3:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, eventually, you'll just need to leave the city, state, and region really, if those things are that important to you (they are to me). OKC will never be a town that could compete with even, say, Dallas, as far as having good shows come regularly. Bands who are serious will leave town, and kids graduating from school won't stay around for house parties too long. There might be flourishes caused by things like the Opolis, but really, if you want that kind of culture/scene, move out. I did.
I never looked back.

At 2:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some people like to be tiny fish in a big pond (all the people who leave). But the ones who stick around and make things happen are the ones who matter and are worthy of credit. Anonymous, I'm afraid you'll always be anonymous.


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