Remembering Bob Quine

The Core Belief

Times have changed.  It used to be I’d crawl to the corner to find a cup of coffee, a copy of the New York Post and a bagel every morning while cursing the man who invented 8am and weaving in and out of the fashionable dressed men and women on their way to a 9-5 gig.  Now, I start the coffee, grab a banana and log on Facebook to check out the action.  The moving carnival that was the New York streets replaced with the occasionally narcissistic news of my friends and me.  Welcome to 2012.

There are times when the actual information posted is actually breath taking.  Such was the case this morning when James Marshall, owner of the now defunct Lakeside Lounge, reminded the Facebook world May 30, 2012 is the eighth anniversary of Robert Quine’s death; a fact that felt like a gut punch to your occasionally intrepid blogger.

I’m sure too most out there the name Robert Quine means nothing.  And point of view wouldn’t change if you saw the man on the street. He was bald, wore round sunglasses, frumpy oxford shirts, a blazer and jeans.  Bob could have easily passed for a piss poor insurance agent or the middle-aged neighbor who mows his lawn in white shorts and dark socks – instantly forgettable.  However, Bob Quine was one of the greatest guitar players to ever hit the circuit.  His violent, burning, brutal and occasionally lyrical no wave jazz influenced solos can be heard on Richard Hell and the Voidoids two records, Lou Reed’s The Blue Mask, Matthew Sweet’s Girlfriend and on tracks by many other artists.

Quine wasn’t like other the other guitar heroes of his generation who relied on the lazy listeners to overlook their lack of ideas from the jump – see Steve Jones – or recycled third generation blues licks picked up from old Led Zeppelin LP’s and played behind dreamy hair – see Slash.  Bob Quine’s punk rock solos were equivalent to Charlie Parker or Miles Davis riffs, every nuance had to be listened to and accounted for.  Something I had been doing ever since I first heard his long sustained notes and staccato screams on the title track of The Blue Mask in December of 1986.

Quine and I became ‘street’ friends on a late September day in 1988.  That was the year of the great New York Telephone strike and since NYU did not supply its students with phones for their rooms, I had to go to the NYT office every day in an effort to put down the deposit so someone would flip the switch and my suitemates and I could call home to Mom and Dad.  After another unsuccessful afternoon spent in a line, I walked past Quine on 2nd Ave in between 12th and 13th Streets. I literally tackled the man screaming, “Do you know who you are?  You’re Bob Quine.”   Fortunately, Bob had a sense of humor, thanked me for being a fan and took me to Eileen’s Reno Bar.  He bought me my very first bourbon – a Jim Beam – in that dive.  I almost got sick after my second glass looking at the leopard skin wallpaper and fake moose head over the bar.

Two months later I went to see Richard Thompson and his electric band at the Bottom Line on the Amnesia tour.  I was quite sick with the latest swine flu to arrive from Southeast Asia and sitting right up against the stage proved to be a bad idea.  After the third song, the vibrations bouncing off my chest managed to get me very nauseous.  By the end of “Don’t Tempt Me” I ran to the bathroom barely making it in time to throw up into the first stall on the left and scaring the bald guy at the urinal.  The bald guy just happened to be Bob Quine.

Shockingly, Quine remembered my name and love for Richard Thompson.  “Alex, I think he’s playing ‘Shoot Out The Lights’,” he teased.  I turned my head to say fuck you but all I could manage to do was vomit on my hero’s shoes.  Quine lifted my head out of the bowl, felt my forehead and dragged me to a cab, all the while bitching at me for even thinking about coming to a concert with a raging fever.

I wouldn’t see Bob again for 3 years.  This time I ran into him on 7th Avenue South near 10th Street where once again, he remembered my name and took me to Woody’s for a bourbon or several.  He was happy I was working at SPIN but displeased I was living with a Princess and he guaranteed she would break my heart – he was right.

Over the next 7 or so years, Bob and I would run into each other twice a year, usually at the corner of 6th Avenue and Houston Street; if Bob was with his wife Alice and we’d shoot the shit for a few and then part.   However, if Bob was alone, he’d drag me to a bar, buy me bourbon (he never let me pay for a round) and talk to me about my life.  That changed in 1999 when he read a wild untamed piece I published on Al Aronowitz’ webzine The Blacklisted Journalist entitled ‘Toe Sucking Night At The Vault.’  One of my old editors at SPIN who was running a new start up magazine had given me a few dollars to write a semi-biographical article about a misadventure at the Vault, a sex club in the Meatpacking District and then rejected it out of hand as too risqué.  It was then our chats about my life turned into lectures.

“You can really write,” he told me.  “Stop existing and start living.”  I was never quite sure what that meant but he repeated it every time I saw him and we ended up in a bar.

The last time we had a drink together was sometime in early 2001.  After that I lost track of Bob until the early spring of 2004.  Once again, we ran into each other at the corner of 6th Ave and Houston.  This time he looked terrible, ragged, drawn.  There was no polite small talk, Bob got right to the point.  “You’re a writer.  Stop existing and start living.”  With that gem of wisdom offered, Quine turned his back to me and walked away.  I with a hearty New York “fuck you” and walked into western SoHo.  In early May, I heard Alice had died a year or so earlier and then came word Bob had committed suicide on May 30 by heroin overdose.

I wish I would have known about Bob’s troubles.  Although I had no idea where he lived, I would have been happy to have wandered his SoHo neighborhood with frequency and looked for him.  Maybe he would have let me buy him a bourbon.

We lost an American Master I was fortunate to sort of know eight years ago today.  The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.

Rest in peace.

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