It was a sad thing to witness the last show at the Cooler. Not just because it was closing?there's always a turnover of clubs in this city, with new ones opening up just as fast as old ones close down. It was sad because it was a dis. It was a sign of how awful it is to run a club and present innovative music in this city, and how you're bound to fail if you don't sell out. If the cops don't get you, the kids will do it all by themselves.
The Cooler was open for about seven years, in the same stainless-steel dungeon on 14th Street that never had any ventilation and always seemed to be hot and humid and musky no matter what the weather, with bad lighting that made everybody look like the same malnourished Kim's Video employee. It was a terrible place to see music, actually. It sounded like shit in there, with the sound bouncing harshly off the metal walls and somebody always asleep at the boards. It took twice as long as anywhere else to get one band's equipment off the stage and another's on. There wasn't the commitment to quality and intimacy you get at Tonic, or the Knitting Factory's hubris and drive to push every little guy into the big time. The Cooler was just a hole underground on 14th Street that opened when nobody cared about 14th Street and closed when it became very valuable real estate.
I've seen some pretty great shows at the Cooler?Thurston Moore, R.L. Burnside, Oneida, a Du-Tels gig during which Gary Lucas and Peter Stampfel bickered more than they played?and for most of those we were packed in like sardines. But the place was half empty for the Suicide gig, and the folks who did show up paid little attention to the music. Those who found the few chairs and stools left in the place drank and dozed off in comfort; others squatted on the hard floor, or paced around looking for friends that didn't show. Maybe like me they came just wondering if they would witness something spectacular or even a little interesting?and then, once they got there, realized they had bought a $20 ticket to a whimpering, ignominious end. While the endless, boring opening acts played onstage?nobody seemed to care who they were?Jedi, the pugnacious owner and booker of the club, made the rounds nailing people for offenses they didn't know they'd committed. One guy walked off with a nice rolled-up "commemorative" poster from a stack near the door; Jedi hadn't put up the sign saying he was charging $20 for the things, and he chased the "thief" all the way up the stairs. Later I sat down on the stairs with a couple of fliers to read, and sure enough, Jedi was on my ass. "C'mon, nope, can't sit there, I'll get a fine for that," he barked, waving at me like an old man shooing a kid off his property.
As usual, the cops showed up at the Cooler that night. Musicians talk about the continuous raids in recent months, sometimes two or three times a week. Every show I'd seen there recently had been visited by the police, and rumors hold they'd fine the club if they smelled some weed, caught some underage drinkers, caught somebody dancing. I'm told these visits are most of the reason why Jedi is shutting down (though I haven't spoken to him directly, because the guy scares me). Five years ago, the area around the Cooler was deserted at night. There was a cheap deli a few doors down where you could buy junk food and cigarettes or just wait for the club to open?its schedule was somewhat improvisational. Now the deli's gone, taken over by yet another French restaurant. I wonder if the cops are hassling Lotus, XL Lounge and the Art Bar too.
By the time Suicide finally went on, at about 2 a.m., most people had gone home, and I quickly joined them. I had missed the earlier Suicide reunion gigs, and wasn't prepared for such a pathetic spectacle. Alan Vega's voice has always had a disturbing edge, like a naked, headless Dionysus trapped in New York City, but now he just seems like a vagrant muttering to himself. Martin Rev actually looks exactly the same ?Horshack in wraparound shades and leather pants. Suicide on life support was far worse than, say, Mick Jagger prancing around for the cameras at age 50?the Stones were a good-time band, and they continue to deliver good times. Suicide was a cry of unexpected hope from within a hopeless world and so was subversive by nature. Suicide 2001 is meaningless.