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'. :)