1/14: Angels, Hard As They Come

In this video clip from the 1980s  UNDERGROUND CAFE local music program that aired on low-budget Cable Television Network of New Jersey (the same obscure channel that was home to The Uncle Floyd Show for a while), a slicked-up Chris Barry interviews Jersey Shore folkie Bob Killian at the long-gone High Tide Cafe in Asbury Park. The late music journalist, booking guy and Mad Hatter poet is among the dearly departed “Asbury Angels” celebrated in a special Induction Ceremony show going up this Light of Day Friday, January 18, at the Stone Pony.

The 2013 slate of Asbury Angels was announced this past weekend — and, putting aside questions of how we’re supposed to find a caring-compartment for this endeavor in a not-quite-post-Sandy seacsape, we’re quite pleased to see the name of an old colleague on the list this year…

CHRIS BARRY, the “freakin’ Deacon” of Shore rock journalists, was a guy who, prior to departing for the world beyond in spring of 2006, touched nearly every aspect of the street-level Jersey Shore words-and-music scene as promoter, booking guy, poet priest, PR person and constant chronicler — in newsprint word and occasional hyperlocal cable image — of same.

If you were a musician or a wordsmith in and around Asbury Park at any time within the 1980s/90s/noughties era of trickle-down economics, you almost certainly had dealings with the man known variously as The Lone Paranoid, the Mad Hatter or even Grizz Wald — and you won’t soon un-see the image of Chris, tall but slightly stooped and flatfooted, loping toward you across a crowded tavern floor, leaning in just a little too close and delivering the latest breathless scene gossip, breaking band news or sage observation in a spray of spittle and a smokey/stoney raspy drawl of a baritone. Think latter-day Elliott Gould times Tuli Kupferberg, divided by Walter Winchell and all the great hippie novelists who never quite got around to typing a single word.

You’d generally spend the next minute or so cleaning the spit from your ear, but somewhere back of that wet-willie communique was a solid foundation of hard information; the lay of the land from a tracker-scout whose circle of acquaintance Venn-diagrammed generational Shore subsets as mutually exclusive as the vintage jams of the Upstage and the hardcore hootenannies of the Hot Dog House. Though we never knew him to drive a car or really make a buck from any of this (he would occasionally intersect with the working world, via paychecks like a civilian gig at Fort Monmouth), Chris managed to make all local stops along the North Jersey Coast Line corridor; looking into and forging friendships in scenes that ranged from barband blues, alt-country and reggae, to punk-pop, solo songwriter and the arty college underground.
As the proprietor of his own grass-roots indie promotion company Pure Promo Ltd. (later World Beyond Productions), Chris repped bands and booked shows at venues like the Fast Lane, the Brighton Bar, The Stone Pony, The Saint and at least a dozen more that we’re surely forgetting. He even made the tiny South Amboy watering hole The Broadway Central Cafe a happening thing for a spell, and his showman’s instincts extended to an active role in the Twang Monster series of roots-Americana showcases, as well as the establishment of the Asbury-based spoken word collective, The Mad Hat Society Poets Troupe.

“It was terrible to hear that the Mad Hatter himself has passed through the pearly gates,” blogged Shore Poet laureate Gregg Glory in memoriam, upon Barry’s 2006 passing at the grizzled age of 54. “Chris Barry’s name will echo awhile here below…silence was never his long suit in life, and in death it is an unseemly garment for a poet. ”

The list of music acts that Chris worked with as publicist, agent or local liaison is a fairly eclectic one that encompasses Goldenseal and The Catholic Girls; The Whirling Dervishes and The Mad Daddys; Mike Ferentino and other members of the Gig Records stable. Just to ponder the fact that he worked with such saints of self-destruction as Johnny Thunders and GG Allin is to qualify him for some sort of park-bench plaque or posthumous medal of freedom.

Still, it’s as a member of that frizzle-fried fraternity of Rock Journalists that Chris Barry will be best remembered…from his highest profile gig as Shore World columnist for The Aquarian Arts Weekly/ EC Rocker to freelance contributions for Relix, Hot Spots, and pretty much every newspaper in Monmouth County (Asbury Park Press, Daily Register, Wall Herald, Two River Times and others that are now little more than a mummified memory).

Our own experience with Chris traces back to the early 1980s and the original incarnation of the Atlanticville newspaper in Long Branch, for whom he wrote a weekly music column then named “Shore World, Shore Thing” (ugh). Charged with editing the paper’s entertainment pages, we were asked to take on the task of wrangling Barry’s lengthy, word-drunk, stream of semi-consciousness rambles into some coherent form for the enlightenment of our no-doubt baffled readers. What it led to instead was the beginning of a longstanding love/hate professional relationship, a place far from coherence — and the establishment of PIPELINE, a bi-weekly Shore music newspaper that we edited and published for several years in the age of Reagan and MTV.

Though we’d often join Chris for a beer or a coffee and a trip out to see some band (to know him was to have to buy him a drink and give him a ride home), we had some battles royal with him when it came to his column copy, which in its raw state was banged out as if on Kerouac’s scroll of butcher paper; rife with shaggydog cul-de-sacs, the most obscure of references and just-plain-made-up words that made more than one vintage Compugraphic typesetter go TILT. Rather than smooth it over into Official AP Stylebook blanditude, however, we actually took the opposite tack…finding and highlighting rhymes; adding CAPS and ellipses for madcap meter and pace; turning SHORE WORLD into a delightfully dense-as-dwarf-star journey to the center of the Barry mind that rewarded the hard-working reader with some genuine scoops and off-beat insight.

Chris would further show himself to be a savvy interviewer in the standard Q&A format; contributing many of PIPELINE‘s cover features (with SOAP stars, up ‘n coming youngsters, and whatever faded act was booked into the Pony, the Trade Winds or the Fountain Casino that week). He’d write about the philosophy of the winking underground cult The Church of the SubGenius and its prophet “Bob” Dobbs (somewhere we’ve still got the mimeographed reams of church lore that adjunct preacher Chris would pass along to everyone he met) — and one of our favorite Barry PIPELINE pieces involved a walking/drinking tour of the (now almost completely extinct) old-man bars of Asbury Park; an article that introduced, at least to us, the concept of the “towel drinker.”

The process between writer and editor was never easy with him, however — as witness the night when he stormed into our old office in a dilapidated downtown Long Branch building and loudly proclaimed that we were NOT to touch or tweak another word of his glittering prose, ever. “YOUR job is to type EXACTLY what the ARTIST puts in front of you!”, he blew.

Five minutes later found him bellowing like Brando from the sidewalk below; begging for his gig back.

Chris was one of those hardy souls who continued to make his home in Asbury long after most people had their love for the place beaten out of them by circumstance — prior to the building burning down, his old brick-walled apartment on a then very groovy block of Mattison Avenue was a true meeting place for musicians and scenesters in that pioneer-spirit 80s era. He’d bounce around to most of the renter’s havens in Monmouth County that we would wind up doing time in ourselves — in fact, for a brief time we were actual neighbors in a crumbling Red Bank apartment house owned by the late and legendary attorney Flo Forgotson.

One dark and dreary interlude would find him, between paying gigs and living well out of the loop in Atlantic Highlands, publishing a xeroxed newsletter called Video Vulture — essentially capsule reviews of movies he’d rent from the video store within walking distance of his pad. Even at his lowest career-arc ebb in that pre-internet age, the impulse to WRITE trumped all considerations of who would read it, how they’d find it, and, we’re willing to wager, whether or not he’d eat that night.

Chris spent much of the beginning of this millennium living with his ailing mom in Ocean Grove, and himself entered a downward spiral of depression and chronic respiratory illness after her death — spending his final months in a nursing home, where he died of COPD on May 5, 2006. Even in the weeks prior to his passing, he had been discussing the prospect of moving into a basement apartment inside the home of our Asbury neighbor and friend Maureen Nevin, who recalled Chris Barry on her old AsburyRadio blog as “a sardonic wit, churning out hip but incisive columns on the music scene with an unwavering eye for the next hit and side-splitting digs for the less-than-prime time.”

There was never an official funeral or anything that we’re aware of, but there was a chance to hoist a beer in Chris Barry’s memory at The Saint several years back; a memorial at which we laid down some yellowing back issues of PIPELINE on a makeshift shrine that the club had set up for the occasion.

We salute the recognition of Chris Barry as one of the newest stars in the firmament of Asbury Angels. And remember, there are no tears in heaven…a trickle-down cascade of spittle ‘n drool, maybe, but no tears.

The 2013 Asbury Angels Induction Show, presented as part of the annual Light of Day festival in Asbury Park, goes up at The Stone Pony on Friday, January 18, with doors opening at 6pm and tickets priced at $30 day of show. And where else can you see the legendary Bandstand golden boy  Bobby Rydell jamming with Boccigalupe and the bad Boys?!