Monday, April 06, 2009

Georgetown by David Arnson

I always loved Georgetown. I remember going for the first time with my parents when I was about 8 or 9 years old and marveling at the hippies. Boys and girls strolling down the sidewalks with their bare feet and guitars, the lava lamps in the gift store windows, and the psychedelic poster shops. I still have my "White Rabbit" poster from the East Totem West Company! Georgetown was such a hip and fascinating place. In junior high and high school, I would take the bus down Wisconsin Avenue on weekends. I might eat an amazing sandwich at The French Market atop the hill across from Dumbarton Oaks, and then stroll down to the bookstores at Wisconsin and P or the one down by the brick Canal Street mall, between M street and the river, to search for science fiction and Conan books.

I would always check out the record stores, the one on Wisconsin above P had, to my teen eyes,  the unnerving poster of John and Yoko nude, but my fave was Orpheus Records on M street. I remember (I'd read reviews in Rolling Stone or Crawdaddy) asking the bearded hippie hipster behind the counter whether I should buy the new LP by Bob Weir or Blue Oyster Cult. He started to mock me by loudly chanting (his coworkers chimed in) "Blue Oyster Cult! Blue Oyster Cult! Blue Oyster Cult!" which to them clearly seemed like a joke band. I went home with Blue Oyster Cult, and damned if I didn't like it! So what if it wasn't hippie music? Orpheus would host cool Halloween parties, and the most eccentric people would show up, my fave being the striking blond with the albino lil ' ferret climbing around her neck. I remember me and my buddy buying Mott the Hoople's Mott and Johnny Winter's Still Alive and Well on Halloween night 1973. I think I was in 10th grade?

We all knew it was uncool to hang out at Blimpie's on the corner of Wisconsin and M, because "that's where the narcs hang out." Ikaros Pizza on M (where I learned what a gyro was) around the corner was way cooler. Also on M you could see cool arty movies at the Biograph and at the Cerberus with its cool art deco neon numbers 1/2/3 in its window. Also notable was the always amazing Key theater that would screen Rocky Horror Picture Show and Eraserhead. Both were among the best of midnight movies in town.

We were barely (actually maybe not really) old enough to go see Patti Smith at the Cellar Door in 1975, but she was like no other performer I'd seen before: cracking jokes, spitting, arching her back upside down on all fours while doing a yoga bridge on Ain't it Strange.

Across M street from the Cellar Door was Desperados, a great club that mainly featured roots music, but later hosted lots of new wave acts like us Insect Surfers. Next door was a multi level army surplus store where I kept myself attired in Italian and Belgian army jackets. If you walked further west, you could find the famous Exorcist stairwell that the priest tumbles down in the movie. And let's not forget The Bayou, at the end of Wisconsin where it hit the Potomac, had some of the best club shows in DC.

(photo by David Nuttycombe)

WGTB, broadcasting from Georgetown University, was the absolute coolest station, and I remember attending a rally (unsuccessfully) to keep it on the air. (The Jesuit administration evidently didn't like them running an ad for a clinic that sponsored abortions.) I got turned on to such a wide array of music from WGTB. Georgetown U. had the most beautiful campus with its medieval looking buildings and courtyards. In between college semesters, I worked at the university hospital while punk rock was slowly taking the city by storm. You could go to Haagen-Dasz Ice Cream and talk to a slightly goofy Henry Garfield behind the scoop counter before he joined Black Flag as "Henry Rollins" to became a professional angry guy. (photo by Alan Kresse)

I still miss the old Little Tavern Hamburgers ("Buy 'em by the bag!") on the east side of Wisconsin and P, with its white and green 40s style architecture and teeny burgers with oniony lumps o' meat. The Little Tavern chain was a late-night mainstay for me, and I sadly saw them slowly disappear from D.C., then Bethesda, Wheaton, and finally, the last store in College Park.

Also let's not forget: The Brickskellar, a great student haven for a myriad of beer varieties and the sadly mundane tasting buffalo burgers. Commander Salamander- the shop where the punk world clashed with the poser fashion world. AND Kemp Mill Records, The Crazy Horse, Poseurs, Olssen's Record and Tape Exchange, Blues Alley, Up Against the Wall-I know I'll think of more later! All of these places have stories.

I drove through Georgetown recently, and it seemed to have become a lot more upscale and definitely less interesting, but I will always have great memories of its vibrant pop-cultural past. BCC High School Yearbook 1976