Bright Lights, Big City; Urban Blight, Big Titties!
Sex & Drugs & Rock and Roll: it’s all here in Baltimore’s infamous red light district, “The Block,” and local bad boy rockers love to show themselves celebrating life’s more lascivious pleasures in music videos shot here. In fact, it’s almost required on any self-respecting musician’s CV.
Back in 1981, Baltimore’s “New Wave” band Bootcamp got things started when they set up on the sidewalk across from Gayety Show World to shoot “Hold On to the Night,” the 42nd video ever shown on MTV. Yes, Bootcamp can boast that they were one of the first artists to be seen on MTV’s very first day on the air, August 1, 1981. (This was back in MTV’s early “we’ll air anything to fill our time slots” days).
In 1997, country rocker Neal Coty – a “Fredneck” born in Thurmont, Frederick County, Maryland – chose The Block for his “Tainted” music video.
Coty filmed in and around numerous clubs, including The Circus Bar, which MeTV Baby Boomer viewers may recall was the club Tod Stiles (Marty Milner) and Buz Murdock (George Maharis) visited when looking for Buz’s mother in the Baltimore-based “Mud Nest” episode of Route 66 (air date: November 10, 1961).
For their 1988 “Blow My Fuse” video, Baltimore hair-metal band Kix filmed scenes of the boys eating at Crazy Joe’s and flirting with the tarted-up floozies down on The Block (though in terms of fashion, it’s hard to tell the hookers apart from the female fans who regularly attend Kix concerts!).
Kix – “Blow My Fuse”
And our filmmaker friend Jim Hollenbaugh (Program Director of the MOVIATE Film Cooperative and Underground Film Festival in Harrisburg, PA) recently shot a music video for local punk rockers Ravagers that featured scenes of rat-faced streetwalkers and doormen down on The Block. Baltimore Street seems an ideal setting for a rat-themed video.
Ravagers – Just Another Rat (Dir: James Hollenbaugh)
Notes from the Underground
Away from the bright lights on East Baltimore Street, a number of local bands played below street level at the Flamingo Lounge, thanks to the efforts of Rev. Fudgie Dobson. Back in 1996, “Fudgie” (George Leroy Dobson) – artist, music promoter, and former drummer in Dogzilla – started booking bands like Buttsteak, Thick Shake, Hula Monsters, One Spot Fringe, Garage Sale, The Jennifers, The Kick Souls, The Put-Outs, and Hassassins to play downstairs in the dark and dank back room of the Flamingo. The “Raunch & Roll” setting was reminiscent of The Beatles’ days playing the Star Club in Hamburg’s red light district, though perhaps not quite as sleazy. More importantly, it was the first live music on the Block in some 20 years, according to writer Raphael Alvarez (“At long last live music rocks Block,” Baltimore Sun, January 23, 1996).
Flamingo owner Pat Mooney was quoted as saying, “We had a bunch of space open and wanted to do something with it…I’m taking a chance that Fudgie knows what he’s doing; I really don’t know what his story is. This wouldn’t normally be my cup of tea, but some of the bands are right good, some are off-beat and some I just don’t know how to describe them.”
“I started it as a nice little getaway for me and my friends,” Dobson told Alvarez. “A place to smoke a cheap cigar, have a martini and listen to cheesy lounge music. It’s groovy.”
Raunch & Roll
Ah, yes. The ’90s was a period that saw a revival of interest in Exotica & Lounge Music, best exemplified in the Las Vegas Grind CD compilation series that featured obscure garage and nightclub bands playing “strip club music.” Allmusicguide reviewer Jessica Jerigan called Las Vegas Grind “the reprobate little sister of lounge music and the unwed mother of all ’60s garage bands,” and the genre saw the emergence of such cocktail culture-celebrating ensembles as Combustible Edison and, locally, The Swingin’ Swamis. So, the Flamingo was a perfect fit for the times.
Though it ultimately proved to be a short-lived groove, it was an interesting mix of generations and cultures. Baltimore Or Less recalls walking through the front entrance of the Flamingo and being ushered down the steps by bored dancers with a dismissive “Send the straights downstairs for the music” (no doubt sensing we were lame tippers who would rather spend money on bands and cheap beer than be hustled for champagne and lap dances). Never have we been so relieved at being ignored!
Finally, Adolf Kowalski of Thee Katatonix adds that his ’90s band Blunt Force Trauma “used to play The Block in between strippers. My wife was a big tit star back then. But of course you never get any credit in your home town.” (We eagerly await stories and photos, Adolf!)
“Hey, hey, my, my, Rock & Roll will never die,” so goes the song. And while The Block has often looked like it was dancing on its last leg, the fascination with its raw and raucous reputation still holds appeal for musicians and artists alike. Just look at the popularity of the Nouveau Burlesque revival, as seen locally with performers like Gilded Lily Burlesque. May there always be a Boom for Va-Va-Va-Voom!