The Berkeley Square used to be on University Avenue in Berkeley. My friend Mary Mayhem was the one who suggested we check it out one Friday night in 1980. “The Berkeley Square is this very cool New Wave rock club,” said Mary. “You wanna’ check out some bands and drink some beers?”
I certainly did!
It all seemed incredibly exciting and hip and modern. “New Wave”!! Mary and I were both in our mid-20s back then. And we had lived in the shadow of “the Sixties” for most of our lives (all that hippie shit). But now our generation was finally starting to make some noise of our own. This was like my second or third date with Mary. So that was a big kick for me, too. I had always been a loser with women. But now all of a sudden it was like: “Hey. Dig me! Sitting here in this dark, neon-lit New Wave nightclub with the hottest chick in town.” It was like I was finally gaining entrance to where all the cool people hung out and where all the exciting things happened. This Rock’n’roll fantasy.
The featured attraction at the Berkeley Square that night was this band called No Sisters. No Sisters were kind of a Devo-esque band. Four nerdy brothers with thick horn-rimmed glasses and skinny ties (remember those?). And they played up the “nerdy” shtick with their zany antics. And their music was great, too. Tight, modern pop-rock dance music with weird touches and humor. For their encore they did a cover of “Cool Jerk” — which captured their essence perfectly. The whole packed crowd of cool people were dancing and pogo-ing up a storm in hipster heaven.
After the show I said to Mary: “Let’s go backstage and interview No Sisters!” I had this crazy fantasy of being a rock critic or something. I was too shy to actually get on stage and play music. But maybe I could use my writing as a way to gain entry into the heart of the rock’n’roll world. I was already writing a monthly column for a local porn paper at the time. And had realized that if you had a couple of press clippings you could bullshit your way backstage and interview porn stars and stuff like that and get paid money for it. So I figured it would work in the rock world, too.
“Hey,” I said to the emcee who was loitering around on the stage. “I work for the Oakland Tribune! Can I go backstage and interview No Sisters for an exclusive feature?”
“Sure,” he said. Free publicity for the club. Which was the name of the game.
And what I said was technically true. I did work for the Oakland Tribune. In the phone sales department. Making minimum wage hawking newspaper subscriptions (“Buy one month and get the second month ABSOLUTELY free!!”).
So we huddled backstage with the band. “Backstage”!! The sacred inner sanctum of the rock’n’roll world. So that was very exciting. I forget what I asked the guys in No Sisters. Or what they said. But I dutifully scribbled down their answers in my little ace reporter’s notepad (all I needed was the hat with “PRESS” written on the side of it for the whole image to be perfect). And I typed it all up and submitted it to the Oakland Tribune. Who, of course, had no interest in publishing the thing.
But in retrospect, the whole exercise reminded me of something that this aspiring rock star once said in an interview. He had been in a bunch of obscure rock bands, and was desperately trying to work his way up the ladder in the rock biz. And the whole thing seemed incredibly exciting and alluring to him. Dreaming of making it to The Big Time where all the really cool people are. So he’s networking like crazy and making connections with all the movers-and-shakers in the rock biz. And then one day, he’s hanging out at this rock concert, listening to one of the big, famous rock bands of the day. And after the show he runs into this guy he knows, who knows this other guy, who knows one of the roadies in the band (or something like that). And he gets invited backstage to meet the band. Backstage! He’s beyond himself with excitement. And not only that. While they’re hanging out backstage, the guy says: “Hey, you want to go to the really cool place? Let’s go over there to the VIP section!” They got this special, roped-off area where only the coolest of the cool crowd gets to hang out. The inner inner sanctum! So now he’s really beside himself with excitement and anticipation. Finally he’s going to enter that magical realm that he’s always longed to be a part of. Sex, drugs, rock’n’roll, groupies, more!! The whole Rock’n’roll Fantasy.
“But when I got back there in the VIP section,” he said, later, “I was kind of surprised to find it was mostly just a couple of bored people lounging around, talking quietly to each other. I remember seeing one of the guy’s from Duran Duran eating a baloney sandwich off of a paper plate. But that was pretty much it.”
That’s life for you, ain’t it? So often, our cherished dreams turn out to be a shell game when we actually realize them . . . Anyways, I think the building that used to be the Berkeley Square is a dry-cleaning place or something like that, nowadays.