Sunday, August 17, 2014

STILL DARING TO BE DIFFERENT

Annnnnnnnd ACTION!
Hello New York and everywhere else, I'm Bird and you're back here at Hockeybird.com. Usually this is a place you'd come to read about the New York Rangers or the NHL at large. For anyone new, August is a time where the NHL is quiet and articles of a different ilk would find their way onto the site.

Of course Hockeybird is no longer what it was. That's OK. There are so many great websites to follow hockey these days and I'm quite pleased that we helped spawn many of them. Taking a back seat after 16 years is just fine by me. Today I'm going to follow in the August tradition and tell the story (non hockey related) of my recent trip back to NY to film my scenes for the upcoming motion picture, Dare To Be Different. It's the story of a small NY radio station and how they (we) changed the world. I'm speaking of course about 92.7 WLIR. You know, 175 Fulton Ave in beautiful downtown Hempstead NY.

Longtime readers of this site remember I'd occasionally post about my time in radio. For those of you who are brand new, this was the place to read about Hockey since 1997. Either way I am in fact DJ Bird from WLIR, 92.7 the station that dared to be different. During the 1980s we broke bands here in the USA that might not otherwise have been played. To our surprise, many of these bands became household names later on. It's true that U2 would have become the major force they are had we not existed but hey, one has to start somewhere and WLIR was the place that helped begin many a music career. That in turn helped create new art, fashion, culture and the like. Many of todays TV commercials feature bands first heard on WLIR. Our impact is still being felt today perhaps even more than we know.

Several years ago I was contacted by a nice young lady from Hollywood about participating in a documentary film about WLIR and it's impact on Long Island, NYC and everywhere else for that matter. It thought it was about time that someone took on this project. Denis McNamara and I had discussed a movie about WLIR for years. Well, Ellen Goldfarb and her team have been working feverishly to produce such a film. I was thrilled. This is a chance for me to thank all those wonderful people I worked with and for. I could thank all the bands who helped me as much if not more than I may have helped them. And of course, I can thank all of those who listened and supported WLIR in addition to the great clubs I appeared at. Of course I would participate. But how? Filming in Florida was not in the cards.

Getting to NY or LA is an issue for me. My personal life has not gone in such a way that taking time off or spending money to travel is a possibility. Thanks to the filmmakers we were able to help arrange a trip this past weekend to NY. The crew had shoots scheduled for over a week with many different people who had a part in the WLIR story. This was just one of many shoots over the last few years. Trust me, I was very excited to board a plane and head north this past friday. I knew it would become another cherished memory connected to my time in the Long Island/New York music scene.

Bird and Dean at Subculture
Dean Roberts is a guy I've know since I was ten or so. I even couldn't begin to tell you about what we did together. He was kind enough to come and pick me up at LGA and we drove to a place in Bethpage normally known as Whoville but becomes Subculture on Friday nights. The night is run by DJ Tim Cody and the music is a kind of celebration of what was once the dominant scene in the tri-state area circa 1980-1990. The flight in was very cool. Approaching NY just after 9pm I was able to see the Statue of Liberty all lit up, the Freedom Tower and then the Empire State Building. It's a sight everyone should see once in their lives. The beauty of Lady Liberty always makes me think of what my Mom must have thought as she gazed on her in 1938 as her family came to the the US to escape the Fascists in Italy. Once in the car, the roads on which most you NYers curse each other were to me, beautiful. The ride to Subculture was filled with nostalgia for me as memories of many different events came flooding back. Yes I live in Florida and have so since 2004 but it was here in NY that I grew up, lived and participated in the WLIR scene for 40 years. It was in NY that my other passion, Ice Hockey was realized, playing and winning championships with the Falcons and practicing with the NY Islanders.

Stepping inside the club was an instant flashback. These days I live for golf, 7am tee times and televised tourneys. I no longer go out at all let alone frequent night clubs. It's quite a treat for me to see the lights, hear the songs I used to play and to see people on a dance floor enjoying them. While it's true I played clubs well after my time at WLIR came to an end it had been years since I last played at Luxe, my very last NY show the night before Thanksgiving, 2003. What a great feeling to see the last and only place on Long Island doing what we did all those years ago. And the people? WOW! Some expected and a few very unexpected guests attended from my past. Even my brother Dave showed up.

I grew up on Bent in levittown
The Nassau Coliseum where we saw many WLIR shows  
Ironically, my youngest brother James was also in town for the first time in ages but not for the movie,for his high school reunion. Texting pictures back and forth allowed us to share the memories even though our paths never crossed during the trip. James and I both left NY for Florida years ago and I see him much more frequently than Dave. It's clear we both were enjoying the "Wayback Machine". I think even Dave had a good time that night though it's always hard to tell.

I had a 10:30 cast call to make in the morning so I couldn't stay late and close the place. I did get to eat in a diner on Hempstead Turnpike I hadn't been in in over 15 years. The next morning was going to be my only chance to get a few seconds of "ME" in the story of WLIR, at least in this film. My mind was racing with memories of filling in for Denis McNamara or Malibu Sue, making commercials with Jeff Carlson, going to shows with Donna Donna and interactions with bands like the Ramones, The Cult, APB, UB40, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts or listeners of our station and all those nights at places like Paris New York, Spit, Malibu, The Ritz, The Limelight, on and on. I didn't get much sleep.

The night before I ask Dean if we could pick up Denis on the way to the shoot out east in Sayville. He really wasn't keen on it as he didn't really know who Denis was. Dean left for the Army in 1980 and wasn't here for my WLIR days. However, his lady friend Veronica said, "Who? Denis McNamara? Oh, we are SOOOO picking him up!". That settled that. Rolling up to Denis' house was a trip. I hadn't been there since at least 1987 and hadn't seen Emily, Denis' wife in at least that long. It had been over ten years that Denis and I had seen each other despite the occasional phone conversations. I admit, this was getting emotional for me. I do miss NY from time to time those days will forever be special to me.

Saturday morning's shoot was at a record store in Sayville, Long Island. It's a place where they sell vinyl, that's right.....you heard me. VINYL RECORDS! Soul Sounds Records is run by Suzanne and she was very kind to allow the producers a fantastic location to shoot. After all, part of my WLIR story is that Denis wandered into Paris NY one night and because I scoured all the record stores for interesting stuff, he added me to the music selection process at the station I grew up listening to as a kid. Walking in wearing almost a golf outfit, I'm not sure the crew knew what to expect. Once changed into my DJ Bird outfit (that sounds so silly and yet, that's what happened) a buzz started. To me it seemed that everyone there was suddenly amped up a notch or two. By the way, I highly recommend visiting Soul Sound and you can tell Suzanne I sent you! There was a listener there also filming and he told the story of a night he called the station and the DJ gave him Elvis Costello tix. That'll be a cool part of the movie for sure.

I won't reveal what topics we covered as I want that to be seen and heard first once the movie is completed and released. That's only fair. I can say that the crew was highly professional and a very comfortable atmosphere was created for the filming. I know that for me having Denis there made a huge difference. Our friendship after all these years reminded me of all the really cool stuff we had the chance to create together. I'm not sure how long the shoot was but it felt like sixty seconds as performances usually dull one's sense of time especially when said performer is having fun. I had fun. But it was over in a blink of an eye. We piled back into the car and for the next hour or so Denis and I traded stories. This should have been filmed. We covered many amazing topics and answered some decades long questions. It was amazing. We ending up in Northport and had a meal in one of the famous sites right in town. The conversations continued for what seemed hours but at some point Denis had to get home and we (Dean, Veronica and I) were exhausted.
Denis McNamara and DJ Bird discuss WLIR in Northport

That night instead of going out we had a delicious meal at home cooked now by the now infamous Veronica and we relaxed, discussing the day's events while Dean was turning me on to some new tunes. The weather was great so sitting outside, relaxing and hearing great tunes in NY was a treat in itself. I had a 7:00am plane to catch to head back home. Luke Skywalker made an appearance that will go unexplained.

During the years and months leading up to this trip it was never certain to happen. In the end it was my two daughters and Denis who each said, "You have to be in this movie" that convinced me that somehow someway it had to happen. I am so glad of that. I'm told there will be a screening of the movie at the Rock and Roll hall of Fame and if I can get a few seconds in it, well then I can die in peace like that guy who held up the sign in Madison Square Garden on June 14th 1994 when the NY Rangers won the Stanley Cup. Yes, that kind of joy. It's very humbling to think about my participation in the WLIR story but I am also quite proud of it as well. I'm so thankful that all the parts will be documented for all time in this project. The producers, crew and those behind the scenes are doing a great thing and I hope they are richly rewarded for their hard work and dedication to something that is not just close to my heart but a part of who I am......it was after all my life.

Yes, we knew that something special was happening. I knew I was lucky to be part of it. It never occurred to me to document it. To me it was "Friday" or just another airshift and my job. I certainly can't claim to understand the grand scope of all that would become as a result of WLIR. I do know how blessed I am to have played a small part. I want to thank Ellen and the entire DTBD movie crew for telling our story and including me. I also wish to to thank all of you who listened, went to the clubs and shows and bought all those records.

Thank you

----}- DJ Bird

1 comment:

Philippe Dupuit said...

Hi Bird,
Nice to read you and this nice little story, I truly enjoyed it. It's also very good to see you, I hope we get to spend sometime together again in the future. Please give my regards to Denis next time you get to speak with him, and also... I would love to see the movie, let me know if it get published somewhere.
Best Wishes,
Philippe (PNY)