Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Right To Bare Skin

Although The Hot Club lived up to its name, another club that was one of the hottest live music and performance spaces in Center City in the 1970s was located a stone's throw from where I now sit.

If I stand on my roofdeck, I can see the location that was once Grendel's Lair. It sat on the corner of 5th and South streets (which is now The Gap) and hosted some incredible live music shows, as well as a long-running tour of an musical performed in the nude ...ahhh, the 70s!

First the music. October of 1978 seemed to be a 'HOT' month for Grendel's. Not only were they the second stop during the first US tour of The Police, but they also hosted The Cramps that same month (a show I so wish I had gone to... alas, I was still 8 months away from my first live show!).

Grendel's was known during the mid to late 1970s as the place to hear the best in folk, punk and new wave. The space wasn't much to look at - but the sounds that came from that 2-story club totally shaped the scene.

Grendel's Lair was owned by Phil Roy (not the singer!) and he opened the space in the early 1970s as a folk club. It slowly became more eclectic and known for some great live music in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Phil also got into producing live theatre and brought to Philly such gems as "The World of Lenny Bruce" and - what shaped my memory of the venue - the show that seemed to be in its 'final weeks' for years... "Let My People Come".

For those that never heard of "Let My People Come", it was an off-Broadway "sexual musical" that was pretty racy even by today's standards. The show featured songs with titles like "I'm Gay," "Come in My Mouth" and "Whatever Turns You On" and most of the performers were nude.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention here that the Musical Director for the original production of "Let My People Come" was Norman Bergen - who is a longtime friend of a friend of mine.

For me this one long-running production is what I remember most about Grendel's Lair. I even saw the show once and it wasn't bad at all. Then again - let any teenage gay boy look at nude men and you're bound to get a good review! FOUR STARS! ;)

During the mid to late '70s, theater in Philadelphia was becoming quite independent. There were places like People's Light, or the Neighborhood Playhouse and even the Society Hill Playhouse -- highly creative enterprises that produced full seasons. South Street played an intricate role in shaping the next generation of theatre - besides productions at Grendel's Lair, places like The Painted Bride went from operating out of a simple storefront on South Street to creating their current space in Old City. Even groups like The Wilma Project performed in the area until Blanka and Jiri joined them in '79 and laid the groundwork for the first Wilma Theatre - which opened on Sansom Street in the early 1980s.

Punk rock. Nude musicals. Flea Markets. Cheap Eats.

For this kid, it really was 'the street of dreams'. :)


mikeypod said...

Hey there!

I found you by way of LiveJournal. I can't seem to find the address for the rss feed from your blog. I would like to subscribe....


(oh, and check out my blog/podcast at www.mikeypod.com)

Caitlin said...

hey i found on that LJ post you made and i have to say that though i am a teenager myself now, I love Philadelphia with all of my heart and I love to hear of the impact it has had on others, especially its past. Philly has such a rich history, and I don't just mean the textbook kind. I found this very enjoyable to read. I think I shall read often :)

Gia said...

Hey..found your blog on a search of the musical Let My People Come. I was in that cast you spoke of in Philly, circa 83'. I was 19 and it was a different place and time. Lady L

Paul said...

And I was in the show in 1981. I remember Grendel's Lair as a bit of a pit (you are much kinder). The whole place smelled like a minty-fresh urinal cake (the men's room was right there by the stage entrance). And one night when I went to my dressing room, there was a small pile of snow that came in through a hole in the roof. Ah, welcome to the theatre!

Chris Watson said...

I was a barback/bouncer at the lair as a college student in 85-86. What an eye opener for a kid from the northern burbs!! O.o

It was right before the sold the place and I actually got to meet BB King. The thing is that even though I shook his hand and heard him play, I had totally no clue who the 'old guy' was at the time.