Longform

A Man Out of Time

Page 7 of 9

"Robert Cray was there one night," Britt recalls. "Julian Lennon sitting in a corner, nobody knew who he was. Ziggy Marley. All the crowd from Woody's, China Club, Tropics. One night these young guys come up to me and they wanna play. The Kids. I say, 'Man, I'm sorry, I can't do it.' 'Come on, man. Let us play the club. We've got Johnny Depp in the band.' I had no idea who Johnny Depp was."

Doc Wiley remembers those days, too. "It was mostly an after-hours club," confirms Wiley. "You had to be a real fan to show up before 2:00 a.m. A lot of shady folks. One night after their gig at Club Nu, Soul Asylum came by. [Guitarist-vocalist] Dave Pirner came up to me and said, 'I really liked your stuff.' 'Did you catch the whole set?' 'No we walked in in the middle.' 'Stick around until 5:00. We'll be back on by then.' 'How many sets do you do?' 'Three each.' 'All original?' 'Yeah.' 'You guys are insane! We only do one set in Minneapolis.' And he stayed for our last set."

"I knew I was living a movie," Britt says now. "I savored every second. We had no money, living there in the hotel with Beth and Briton, but I really loved it. That [Beirut at the Delano] lasted about a year. It was going great. The hotel manager used to come in at 5:30 in the morning, turn on the lights, and throw a bunch of people out. Then one day I go down to the club and I see all this cotton in the halls. 'What's all this cotton?' They have a brother pulling the stuff off of the pipes with his bare hands. That afternoon the feds showed up. They started wheeling old people out, and the next day the hotel was shut."

Wiley puts it succinctly: "I'm literally sleeping in my bed and this guy shows up at my door dressed in a space suit telling me I have to vacate the building. The place was full of asbestos."

"So I say to Mr. Kasden, 'What do I do?'" Britt amplifies. "He says, 'Go see Timmy.' So I take the whole circus with me. The next day we're all at the Seagull, which is like a run-down gay hotel, standing in this gloried drag closet. 'What do we do now?' Ruben Pagan and this guy Mont had already been DJing at Beirut, and they were playing excellent music. They suggested we open a dance club. This closet stands right next to an old kosher kitchen that had long been closed in the hotel. One minute we decide to make a nightclub, the next minute we're looking at this kitchen that looks like a disaster area. So a name immediately comes to us A 'Hell's Kitchen.' We immediately painted that one out front, but Mr. Kasden freaked out when he saw it. This thing was devilish. So we changed it to just 'the Kitchen.' Spray-painted all the silverware fluorescent colors and hung it from the [black-lit] ceiling. The room was so gorgeous Coke shot a commercial there. Vice shot there."

"That place got insanely popular," adds Wiley. "All the people on X came by because they wanted to hang out in the black lights. All the goth kids loved it. It was Dennis's idea to rummage through the kitchen for props. I don't think they invested more than $3000 on renovations. That was part of Dennis's genius. He could make something out of nothing; he was forever making purses out of sows' bars."

Britt shrugs off the compliment. "That's one of the very few advantages that musicians have," he reckons. "They can run clubs; they really know what people want, how to entertain people. But you know, after a while you get tired of the injustice. I would estimate that at the Kitchen Club we were making $50,000 a month for Mr. Kasden. Then when it comes Friday, to get your lousy $300 check you've gotta chase him around for a week. Hello!"

The times took a toll on Britt's band, too. After performing their seventh major industry showcase without landing a deal, Watchdog finally broke up in 1988. Britt went to New York City for four months as part of a deal to sell CBS some old Watchdog songs. "'You're gonna make it big, kid,' Britt says mockingly. 'You're gonna be huge.'" Disillusioned once again, Britt returned to the Beach to find that the scene had gotten ugly at the Kitchen Club, where he accepted the job of interim manager. "It was the same building but not the same quality of life," he notes. "So I left."

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Todd Anthony
Contact: Todd Anthony