Sunday, May 4, 2008

History of the Blessed - Nick Berlin

So most of my diary from this point on revolves around a band from NYC called The Blessed. You can visit some sites for more information on them or their members.

I will be publishing a series of current interviews with band members from back in the day. The first interview is with Nick Petti (formally known as Nick Berlin), a founding member of the Blessed.

Me: How did the Blessed start and were you a founding member?

Nick: I met Jahn Bonfiglio (X-Sessive) at the Lincoln Program, an alternative junior high school near Lincoln Center. He introduced me to the music of The Ramones, Richard Hell, and a few others and we started playing music together, he on guitar and me on saxophone. He lived on MacDougal Street and we started busking on the corner of Bleecker & MacDougal. We hung out all day, every day at Bleecker Bob’s record store, waiting for the new singles to come out. Bob introduced us to Billy "Stark" Stone who was trying to start a band. Billy had corresponded with T. Arthur Brennan (Darvon Staggard) via Lenny Kaye’s Doc Rock column in Rock Scene mag. We met Howie Pyro at Manic Panic where he was dropping off some clothes for consignment. We talked for hours, trying to come up with a name for the band we were envisioning. Howie had all sorts of names, like The Electric Bathtubs, things like that and kept referring to a list he had at home. We kept urging him to go get it and he kept saying it was far away, had to take a train, then a bus, but wouldn’t say that he lived in Queens.
The plan was, Arthur would run away from home. He and X would play guitar, Billy would sing, Howie would switch to bass (he had been taking guitar lessons) and I would play either saxophone or drums. Arthur did run away from home and spent a few weeks with us but his parents hired a private eye who caught up with us (another story in itself). Our first rehearsal was at Billy’s mom’s apartment with Howie on his new bass and he and X plugged into the same amp, me on cardboard boxes and disposable pie tins and Billy singing into a mic from a cassette record which wasn’t plugged into anything. Billy and I wrote 2 or 3 songs that day, and Howie and X, feeling jealous, huddled in the corner and came up with either Trust Me, or No Use Trying. A few weeks later X tried to kick me out of the band, declaring I was hopeless as a drummer (I was) and there was no room for saxophone. Howie, took up for me and kicked X out of the band.
We still didn’t have a name which we desperately needed because Manic Panic had asked us to model for their catalog and we wanted it read "Modeled by members of The XXXXXXX". We were (especially Billy) big Damned fans, so The Blessed seemed a good choice.
We also didn’t have a drummer, which we desperately needed as we had already booked a show at Max’s Kansas City. Eileen Polk, our "manager"/babysitter/person with a stable phone number, agreed after some arm twisting, to drum, but only if should could wear a bag on her head so no one would know it was her. The contact sheet from that gig is up on The Blessed myspace page.
Howie knew Brad from Queens and brought him to a rehearsal. He could play drums, but was a metal guy, heavy into Kiss and never really seemed to get into the stuff we liked. Thus was the first "stable" line-up of the Blessed.

Me: How old were you?


Me: How old were you when you played your first show and where was it?

Nick: 13. Max’s.

Me: When did you first know you wanted to be in a band? Why Punk Rock?

Nick: I had played music since the 5th grade and music was always a large part of my home life. Rolling Stones, Velvet Underground, Bob Dylan, Donovan, Grateful Dead, The Band, Thelonious Monk, Mothers of Invention, Cream, Blind Faith, et al were on heavy rotation. My mom was always picking up new stuff, Blue Oyster Cult, NY Dolls, Patti Smith.
After the Lincoln Program I was accepted into the HS of Music & Art on 135th & Convent Ave. thinking I was going to write symphonic music. I had however, by this time been exposed to the raw energy of the punk rock scene, and that combined with raging hormones made me sure I would be a star of this punk rock stuff.

Me: How did you get into the Punk Rock scene and what was the first band that you saw?

Nick:Technically the first band I saw was Thundertrain from Boston who were opening for the Dead Boys, but I was there to see the Dead Boys. Perfect for a teenaged boy.

Me: Who were your major influences in your music?

Nick: All the things listed above from home. Howie introduced me to a lot of the glitter stuff I missed out on like Sweet, Sparks, Gary Glitter, Mud. I was always a sucker for the pop stuff and while we all loved Generation X, I was probably more alone in my appreciation for Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello. I was definitely alone in my love of George Jones and other early country music guys.
Later, we all loved The Fast, who were in my opinion the most underrated group of the scene.
We were an amalgam of Dead Boys, Damned, Sweet and the Stones to keep it short. Everyone brought their own perspective, Billy up front being Jagger/Bators, Brad in the back as Peter Criss, Howie and I hamming it up on either side of Billy trying to really be a three ring circus.

Me: How did it feel the first time you were on the stage?

Nick: Amazing. We broke house attendance records for Max’s because we were a novelty act. Younger, Louder and Snottier so to speak. Even better was after. I put my guitar away, came downstairs and a lovely redhead named Lolly came up handed me a drink and gave me a long kiss. I told her, "You must be looking for someone else." Looking me right in the eyes she replied, "No, I’m looking for you." For a 13 year old boy, this was pretty damned close to heaven. I truly was Blessed.

Me: How long did the Blessed last?

Nick: 2-3 years. According to Billy’s myspace page I was around for only one of those and while I’m sure he’s got his dates right, it definitely felt like longer. It was certainly such a defining time in my life that I still often think of myself as the guitarist in the Blessed, although I’ve done many other musical things and have certainly been a chef and restaurant owner for far longer than I was the Blessed’s guitarist. I guess every middle aged person feels that way about their teenaged years. I do believe we were all in NY at a very exceptional time, with (relatively) cheap rent coinciding with a lot of youthful energy in all the arts, not just music. Again, I’m sure many middle-agers feel the same about those halcyon teenaged years but NY from 76-81 had a lot going for it.

Me: Why did the Blessed break up?

Nick: Can’t tell you why the band broke up only why I left. No one wanted to practice. I wanted to become more "musical" or serious or something. I was never close with either Billy or Brad, Brad because he was just so different from me and Billy because he was so private and never was willing to let me in.
I did have a blast at the reunion show with Reagan Youth and the Beasties at Gildersleeves. Glad we did it, glad we didn’t do any more.

Me: Since you were so young, what did you think of the fact that you had fans?

Nick: I didn’t really think of it. We were all just friends. Almost everyone was in a band, or was dating someone in a band.

Me:Where was your favorite show that you played at?

Nick: Every one we did. I loved playing. I loved the show we did at Rumbottom’s after Howie’s graduation because he played in cap and gown and I was really proud of him, I loved the show we played with Allen Zane on drums because we looked amazing and we thought it was really funny to have The Speedies drummer playing for us. I loved opening for the Dead Boys, even when someone yelled out, "Bring on the real Dead Boys". The reunion show as I mentioned. Any show with The Fast or Student Teachers. The Hot Club show in Philly was hilarious because of the drama and foolishness in getting us there. Playing the 21 Club for the Dutch ambassador’s son’s birthday was a howl as was playing at Nirvana for Stacy’s birthday party. Probably the Nirvana show was my absolute favorite. We invited all the demi-monde, telling of the free food and alcohol that was to be bestowed upon them and they all showed up, nearly causing a riot. My current restaurant owner self looks on in horror when I recall the events.

Me: Who was the first really famous person that you met? Were you at all impressed that you were so young?

Nick: That depends on your definition of really famous. Like I said we were all just friends. I suppose David Johansen because at the time he hadn’t really gotten his solo band together, it was post-Dolls and I guess I was most impressed because they were one of the bands like T.Rex, Spiders from Mars, etc. that I was just a little too young to have seen. I used to sleep on his floor on 17th St and really thought I was special. Of course, meeting Bowie was a thrill. Meeting Johnny Rotten was a bit of a let-down.

Me: What was it like for you in high school? Did the kids in your class know that you played in a band at night?

Nick: I quit high school at 13, the only kid in my class I had contact with was Carrie Hamilton, who you might remember from downtown. Around school, but I don’t know if he was enrolled, was Michael Beinhorn, (now a big-time producer) and we spent a little time together later, when I lived at a mutual friend’s apartment.

Me: Do you stay in contact with any of the original members?

Nick: I email Howie all the time. We talk on the phone about every three or four months. I saw him about 10 months ago. Arthur Brennan, who I consider a member even though he never appeared publicly with us, has been to my restaurant a few times recently. I’ve just been corresponding with Billy via myspace. And I’ve been in touch with Jahn who I believe is playing with Sugartime.

Me: What are you most memorable experiences that you would want to share from the Blessed days?

Nick: I’ll send you a few as they occur to me. I think Billy is hot to put up stories and chronology on either myspace or a website he’s working on. He’s asked if there’s anything I’d like not to be mentioned, or that I want to make sure is emphasized. I told him I needed to neither conceal nor glorify anything in particular although it will be interesting to see where our recollections differ. He probably has things a lot straighter since I was drunk most of the time then. Been sober 20 plus years now, and as they say "neither regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it". Thanks so much for asking the questions. It’s been fun to reminisce.

Next Interview Coming Soon with Billy Stark

1 comment:

Mykel Board said...

I just saw Billy at the Max's Kansas City reunion. He recognized me, probably because my picture is all over the place. I didn't recognize him.

We talked a bit. He seemed kinda down, and really really anxious to "get over" The Blessed. He wanted to move on to other things. Maybe do other music.

The reunion show was great, but Billy saddened me a bit. I hope all's okay with him. --Mykel