Giorgio Gomelsky with a young Eric Clapton looking on.
Giorgio Gomelsky died of cancer earlier today. He was 82.
Gomelsky opened London’s Crawdaddy Club in 1963 where he booked bands like The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin. He briefly managed both The Stones and The Yardbirds. The bands whose careers he guided and advised and record labels he helped create is quite astonishing: Marmalade and Zu Records, Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger and the Trinity, Kevin Godley and Lol Creme (10cc), The Soft Machine, Daevid Allen and Gong, Magma, and Material, Rod Stewart, John McLaughlin, Alexis Korner. Graham Bond, Plastic People of the Universe..
When he arrived in New York City in 1978 he leased a mid-town loft which became a gathering place for rock and rollers, artists and punks including Richard Hell, Gary Lucas, Bad Brains, John Holmstrom, Jesse Malin, Jean Michel-Basquiat, John Sinclair, Fred Maher and many others. He also “became a well-known “activist” for the Amiga, the multimedia computer with an arty users group including Warhol and Blondie’s Chris Stein.”
Gomelsky moved to the USA and into the Chelsea NY building that became the Green Door in 1978. In the 80’s it was known as the Plugg Club. The first Green Door parties were thrown there in the late 80’s and old friends like Nico would sleep on the floor when visiting New York. For a while, the ground floor was occupied by a S&M club called Paddles; a whole generation of New york rockers has fond memories of filing past customers who were being whipped and nipple-clamped as the musicians headed upstairs to meet with Giorgio. John Strausbaugh.
I met Giorgio in 1979 at his second favorite hang-out, Tramps, an Irish pub turned music venue managed by my band’s manager Terry Dunne. Tramps was an unpretentious joint that was a safe haven for local and touring musicians. I remember many nights when Giorgio would be gently schooling the likes of Jeffrey Lee Pierce, David Johansen, Joe Strummer and Shane McGowan. Musicians who knew Giorgio understood his place in the scheme of things. He was a magnet for people who needed a bit of his mojo. In many respects, he reminded me of Alejandro Jodorowsky.
Giorgio was at the center of several decades worth of important rock and roll moments and yet he rarely gets the credit he was due. He was a mentor to artists who became huge stars and yet he never made much money. Towards the end of his life he was living in his ramshackle Chelsea studio, The Red Door, an underground scene that still drew musicians for sage advice from the musical guru Gomelsky.
There will be much written about Giorgio’s great legacy in the next few days. I’ll leave the history to those who are better at it than I am. I just want to share my experience of Giorgio and what made him so remarkable.
Giorgio pushed me toward honesty. He constantly questioned my motives when it came to rock and roll. Was I trying to be a star or an artist? Was I poseur? Was I the real deal? Were my punk ideals just a load of horseshit? Was I a revolutionary or just another jerk who was willing to sell out for a few grand and a tour bus full porn videos? He was impossible to lie to. He had a bullshit detector that could not be evaded. When my band, The Nails, got signed to RCA, Giorgio warned me of the dangers of getting carried away by the lure of power and possible fame. He hated the major music corporations (he had worked at RCA) and the way they had reduced rock and roll to a mere commodity. He gave me the same advice he gave The Rolling Stones: “don’t do it for the money, do it for love.” And when Giorgio spoke you listened. His voice was rhapsodic, wild, and laced with a Russian accent that evoked visions of Rasputin. His eyes sparkled with fire and ice and when he expressed himself he’d lean in toward you, got close, and you never knew whether we was going to bite you or kiss you. Either one would have been a blessing.
Music is a journey, not something mapped out by a lawyer. Human expression is when you make real what you feel. It’s about the discovery of reality behind appearances. - Giorgio Gomelsky
Giorgio was not a braggart. He never waved his amazing story in your face. He wasn’t resting on past glories. He was always looking for something new, something exciting, something that might shake things up. Had he been driven by money, he could have been a millionaire. But for Giorgio it was about the poetry, the soul of a thing - creation at the service of making the world a more exciting and better place.
Giorgio on his favorite mode of transportation. Photo: David Goodis.
Had I listened more to Giorgio and followed his advice, I would have examined my creative impulses more closely. I would asked myself whether I was doing exactly what I wanted and whether the results were true to who I was and wanted to become. Was I settling for what I could get away with? Was it possible I was mistaking getting a record deal as some kind of artistic accomplishment as opposed to what it really was, a business arrangement? Had my ego been so coddled by the well-intentioned people around me, including my bandmates, that I was believing my own hype? Had my rebel spirit been crushed by the very machine I was raging against?
I had gotten into rock and roll not as some kind of money grab or to seek out fame. Quite the opposite. I started a punk band in 1976 to disrupt what I saw as a music scene that was rapidly deteriorating into bloated art rock and mainstream fluff. It wasn’t even a decision to start a band. It was a calling. Giorgio and I shared this sense that social and cultural upheaval was necessary and healthy and in the past 50 years rock and roll had spearheaded most of it. But Giorgio had more practice at being an anarchist and therefore had built up an almost superhuman ability to resist the siren call to sell out his ideals. I was on more wobbly turf. The cocaine culture of 80s rock had become very seductive. Like Castaneda’s Don Juan, Giorgio was the voice in my head that reminded me there was more to life than Peruvian flake and backstage blowjobs. In Giorgio’s world rock and roll was a path to creating something subversive and life-changing. Though he would never have used the world “spiritual” to describe rock music, he knew it was a force that could be used to better humankind. Guys like Giorgio are not business men. They are shamans. They manage the magic, not the money.
In many ways, both overt and sly, Giorgio let me know when I wasn’t living up to my potential as a musician. He was polite after seeing some of my band’s early live gigs, but in his politeness there was a clear message saying “you’re full of shit.” Getting Giorgio’s approval meant a lot to me. He had been among the giants. He knew the way things worked; the traps and hazards of being complacent, of thinking a record deal meant more than the paper it was written on. He could be lacerating and cruel. And it was all for the right reasons. I wanted to get to a place where I could look Giorgio in the eye and not flinch.
Giorgio Gomelsky was behind some of greatest bands in rock and roll and most people don’t even know his name. That was his style. He gave so much and expected nothing in return. He wasn’t some warm and fuzzy sentimental bastard. He was definitely of the tough love school of mentoring. In Giorgio’s world it was all about the music. Fame and money were secondary. That was his message to every artist he nurtured. He was a muse. A mad, beautiful muse.
Giorgio with Paul McCartney, Brian Auger and Viv Prince of The Pretty Things.
Giorgio is deserving of a biography. I hope he left journals and notes behind. For the moment John Strausbaugh’s very fine book Rock Til You Drop is a good source for information about Giorgio’s life. Strausbaugh and Gomelsky were friends and the book is filled with the kinds of insight that occurs between people who are close. And both writer and subject share a similarly skeptical view of the greed fueling the music industry.
Strausbaugh just sent me the following message:
Giorgio was a dreamer, an idealist, and a visionary, in a world, and a music business, where those qualities are rare. Beyond launching the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds and some other bands, which is a big enough deal in itself, I think what’s important and inspiring about him is that he had a very strong conviction that music and culture are far more than entertainment and aesthetics, they’re ways that humans speak to one another and form communities and, having done that, evolve toward something better and finer. Giorgio was always thinking about how to build and sustain communities, locally and globally. Boy do we need more people thinking that way at this point in time. He will be sorely missed, not only by people who knew him, but by people who don’t even know why his passing diminishes their world.
Check out this piece on Giorgio by Strausbaugh: Having a Rave Up with Giorgio Gomelsky.
Dangerous Minds’ Howie Pyro was a DJ at Giorgio’s venue the Green Door (Red Door’s predecessor) back in the early 90s. I’m sure he has some wonderful stories to tell. Howie?
P.S. I didn’t sell out. But I did end up with a tour bus full of porn videos.