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(TV) NY Times article on the Bottom Line
Television played their "final" shows, in July 1978, at the Bottom Line. If you
ever wanted to go there, now is the time...
September 16, 2003
For Younger Music Fans, a Club Is, Well, History
By MICHAEL SLACKMAN
here was a time when a guy named Ringo Starr played the drums with a band
called the Beatles, who had their music pressed onto round, black discs of
vinyl and stuffed into jackets known as album covers.
That might sound so obvious as to be silly, until you meet Brian Lee. He is a
19-year-old student studying music technology at New York University. He plays
the trombone, has his own band and dresses like a 19-year-old musician might,
with lots of black and piercing.
He's never heard of Ringo Starr.
"I haven't heard about a lot of groups," Mr. Lee said. "I'm mostly into my own
This is not to make fun of Mr. Lee, who is a serious young musician, but to
point out the problem facing the Bottom Line, a legendary music club in
Greenwich Village that has showcased many of the biggest names in music over
the last 30 years. Indeed, Mr. Starr himself recently played on its stage.
The Bottom Line owes its landlord, New York University, $185,000 in rent going
back to 2000, and may be forced to shut down. The club has been a presence on
West Fourth Street in the Village for nearly three decades, and its possible
demise has alarmed many of its faithful, from longtime customers to music
industry legends. They say the club must be saved to help preserve a historic
site, one that also offers a unique atmosphere to established musicians as well
as up-and-coming artists.
"The sense of history alone that exists within those walls is something that
the city, let alone the music community and music fans, should value and
treasure," said Vin Scelsa, the longtime disc jockey who is best known for the
radio show "Idiot's Delight."
But if its doors close, the death of the Bottom Line may well be more the
result of changing musical tastes than a dispute in which the landlord has
filed court papers seeking to take possession of the club, while the club's
owners want to work out a payoff schedule.
There was a time when the Bottom Line was a must stop for up-and-coming
artists, established musicians and everyone in between. Its legacy is so strong
that when Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel recently announced plans to reunite and
tour, they did so from the stage at the Bottom Line.
Why, then, hasn't Melanie Golder ever stepped foot inside the Bottom Line? She
is 42 years old and has lived in the neighborhood for the last eight years. Or
how about Julie Denison, 33, who has lived there for six years? Both women say
that they are interested in music but that the Bottom Line just hasn't been on
their list of places to see.
"I've walked by it a million times," said Ms. Denison. "I can't even think of
anyone who has been there."
To begin to understand the Bottom Line's troubles is no more difficult than to
cross the street. From there, the club's blue awning can be seen by hundreds of
students milling around Tisch Hall at N.Y.U., but its legendary reputation
"You mean the comedy club across the street?" Chase Berger, 20, a finance and
marketing major from Florida, responded when asked if he had ever heard of the
club. "I think the taste for live music has gone down. People are more into
D.J.'s, hip-hop and electronic music."
Or here is 19-year-old Shawna Dobbins's perspective on the club. "I always felt
like it was an older crowd, and it was kind of expensive. I love music, but
I've never been there," she said.
If there is a sigh going out over the Bottom Line's troubles, it is probably
being heard in Westchester, Long Island and New Jersey. The Bottom Line was
once a place that attracted young people from around the region. Those
audiences poured in to hear musicians like Bruce Springsteen, Lou Reed and
Miles Davis. But those audiences have grown older, and though still interested
in music, they are less likely to venture downtown for a night at a club.
"I think the audience of the Bottom Line is a loyal one that was built over the
years. It is the 30-plus audience," said Rita Houston, music director of WFUV,
a radio station that promotes two performance series at the club aimed at
younger audiences. "I would say the majority of the audience is a suburban
audience that lives outside of town and is probably married with kids at this
point and still goes to the shows."
Steve Fenster, 47, a mortgage broker from Briarcliff Manor in Westchester, is
that audience. He has been going to the Bottom Line since he was a teenager
growing up on Long Island. He has memories of shows at the club and still gets
out to see live music often. But he hasn't been to the Bottom Line in 10 months
and notes that there are many other clubs open now.
"Maybe the kind of musicians somebody my age likes aren't playing there much
anymore," he said.
That may be part of the problem. But it is more complex, reaching into the
changing economy of the city and the changing nature of the music industry,
with name acts concentrating more on making CD's than trying to draw audiences
Allan Pepper, one of the owners and founders of the Bottom Line, is struggling
to keep it open. He insists that the club remains relevant and modern. He
notes, for example, that the club recently had four up-and-coming artists,
aimed at attracting younger audiences, on the same day that Ringo Starr played
That, however, didn't mean anything to Mr. Lee, the 19-year-old musician, who
said he had never heard of the four other musicians, either.
"Can I tell you the name of my own band?" Mr. Lee said as he walked away
carrying his trombone case. "Insult to Tradition."
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