If you live in the Northeast & know anything about indie rock, you know about Maxwell’s. A restaurant with a back room that holds about 200 people, Maxwell’s opened in 1980 and quickly gained a reputation as THE place for bands to play. Owner Steve Fallon & booker Todd Abramson treated the bands right (excellent sound system & free dinner) and consistently had their finger on the pulse of the music scene. R.E.M. played here in 1980, and countless other bands did too. Bruce Springsteen filmed his music video for “Glory Days” here (contrary to urban lore, he never went there before the video shoot & never went there after it, either).
More than anything, Maxwell’s stood head & shoulders above almost every other small music venue for their uniqueness. Vic Chesnutt opened for Richard Thompson, acoustic Soul Asylum opened for Pavement. The respect that Maxwell’s had for the musicians who played here was evident. Many bands loved coming back to play here, year after year. And the list of bands that played here before they hit the big time is legendary: Nirvana (opening for Tad & playing to 50 people), Soundgarden, Red Hot Chili Peppers all graced the stage here in an intimate atmosphere that was unforgettable.
Times have changed in Hoboken, and the home grown music scene of the 80’s & 90’s is long gone. A two bedroom apartment rents for $3000 now, and condos approaching the million dollar price tag are becoming the norm. Parking, long a major complaint about Hoboken, is worse than ever. Out of towners are all but discouraged from visiting & spending money here. All of these factors combined to make current owner Abramson decide to close Maxwell’s doors for good on July 31. The town of Hoboken jumped in (too little too late) and offered possible solutions to the parking problems, but Abramson stood firm. Rather than continue running the place when his heart wasn’t in it, he has chosen to simply close Maxwell’s, & go out on top. One of the most famous music venues in the country is now gone.
So where does that leave people like me, who have been seeing bands, sitting at the bar & eating dinner there for 30 years? It leaves us with a huge hole in our hearts. I’ve seen probably hundreds of bands there & had countless good times there. With the parking problems getting worse, I’d been going there less & less over the past few years. No sweat, I thought, Maxwell’s is always gonna be there. Now it’s gone. My last visit was during the July 4th weekend, when I saw The Feelies play there for the last time. Their 4th Of July weekend residencies date back some 20 years, so it must have been bittersweet to take the stage for one last time. Five encores & three hours later, they had played their last note at a club that they considered home.
I never thought I’d feel the way I do about a commercial space the way I feel about Maxwell’s. Walking through the front door, I always felt like I was home. I felt so comfortable, a feeling that I haven’t had in any other place since. Twice, I was invited to the employee Christmas party. Has that ever happened to you??? There were people who suggested to Todd that he should put up 15 flat screen TV’s & show sports, maybe THAT would save the club. But if he did that, it wouldn’t be Maxwell’s. It would be every other faceless soul-less bar on Washington Street. Maxwell’s was a unique spot for a specific set of people, & they NEVER compromised. It’s that integrity that led Todd to make the decision to close out a vitally important chapter in music history.
I’ve had a gut wrenching sense of loss ever since the closing was announced, and as I write this, today is Maxwell’s last day. There’s a block party going on outside there tonight, but I won’t be there. My last visit there was so perfect, so much fun, I’d rather let that be my last memory of my favorite place in Hoboken, and possibly anywhere.
Besides, I doubt I’d be able to find a place to park.