First glimpse of Pauly


January 12, 1984


It is not how many bands, but the same band with the pieces reshuffled in a desperate attempt to find the right combination to this lock on success.

I caught up with the band at St. John’s community room in Paterson in 1968 – already an established trio that had started out in Nick’s basement – a wealthy kid from West Paterson whose parents had indulged him with every sort of musical instrument, including a full drum kit. And the boys from the neighborhood were perfectly willing to take advantage of the opportunity, moving in on the boy and his basement in their attempt to duplicate the magic they had seen coming out of Liverpool.

Hank had dragged me to the community center in order to meet Pauly, who Hank worked with at the laundry, but I had yet to meet.

Already, Hank had reshaped Pauly into a myth.

Since starting work with him, Hank could talk of little else. He ranted on non-stop about what Pauly did or said, and reported on everything he or Pauly did or said together – all to the point that I either had to meet Pauly and find out the truth or kill Hank just to shut him up.

I remember it being a sunny afternoon just after Labor Day – a lingering summer day that had hints of changing season in it, some cooler air blowing up from the twisting river bed of the nearby Passaic River.

We arrived early and so had to wait, which only allowed Hank to rant on even more about what a treat I was about to get in meeting Pauly.

Murder became an option again. But St. John’s community center was literally in the shadow of Passaic County Jail and this was enough to keep me from killing Hank, although just barely.

Technically, Pauly wasn’t a member of this band yet, but was scheduled to perform that day as a guest.

This, I later came to realize, was part of a pattern of behavior that would go on for years, a kind of seductive dance which he and the band engaged in. Each time the band wanted Pauly to become a member, they would tease him with a taste – inviting him up for one or two songs until he like a drug addict got hooked on the attention.

Calling themselves, Eric Lemon Milkband (a kind of perverted tribute to The Beatles St. Peppers), the band had already become a local legend in nearby towns, drawing thousands of fans to church performances and school dances -- and thus scaring the hell of the adults who were always wary of some youthful uprising that would change from music to revolution. In towns like West Paterson and Little Falls, people lived with a certain amount of guilt, having clawed their way out of the ghetto while leaving behind the blacks and Latinos that had come to Paterson as the new immigrants.

Hank hadn’t seen the earlier performances, but had heard reports from Pauly who claimed the police closed down one of them after a dance/concert meant for two hundreds had nearly 2,000 show up.

Many of these people came to St. John’s that day and so the line to get into the hall was long, and noisy, filled with voices of expectation not a lot different from Hank’s.

Although later modified, this sense of awe would accompany Pauly through the next ten bands he played with (although they were really only variations of this same band, adding or subtracting pieces in a sometimes desperate effort to find the right combination that would allow them to find success – if indeed, success was ever the actual motivation.

Hank’s infatuation combined with that of the crowd infected me, and so I felt the exhilaration at finally seeing Pauly ahead of us on the line, even though the crowd kept us from actually catching up with him to talk.

The first thing I noticed was how impatient he was. Huffing and puffing on his cigarette with a sense of frustrated urgency, finally crushing the cigarette under the heal of his shoe when finally, the line allowed him to get through the door.

We kept sight of him as we got closer to the doors – he on the inside struggling to get through the crowd and closer to the stage, us on the outside, Hank stirred up by the sight and even more anxious to catch up.

But Pauly’s attention never wavered from the stage and the music kept him from hearing Hank’s shouts.
Pauly looked like a combination of Neil Young and John Lennon, but dressed like Lennon, with Lennon-like hair and glasses.

These last were part of the new fad of round, wire frames, Hank would eventually adopt, not because he wanted to look like John Lennon as we all did, but because he wanted to look like Pauly, who already did.

Pauly wore a fatigue army-style shirt, but without any symbols of rank or unit. He wore jeans ragged at the bottom where they rubbed against the edges of his cowboy like boots.

Seeing Pauly in the flesh dispelled Hank’s claims that they looked like brothers, and that they must have been brothers in some previous life. While there was a vague similarity due to long hair and similar dress, when put side by side, they did not look at all like each other.

But even in that brief glimpse and from a distance made worse by the crowd, I could see something special in Pauly that I had not seen in anyone else.

Then after lighting up another cigarette and crushing it again under his heal, he finally noticed us, and gave an odd smile, showing off the slight flaw in his front tooth, but not betraying how he felt.

Then someone from the bandstand called his name, and he turned and swam through the bodies to get to the stage. Although as tall as either me or Hank, Pauly looked small even insignificant when he finally got behind the microphone – and totally out of place. At that moment prior to the start of the music, he did not seem at all like a rock star, and even accidentally knocked down the microphone stand sending a wail through the large room.

A few typical jersey guys in leather jackets stood right in front of the stage making rude remarks, looking for trouble the way their kind generally always does.

I didn’t want to be in the middle of a riot – since I’d had too many fights of my own recently at school – and urged Hank to leave.

“No,” Hank insisted. “We have to wait. We have to hear him sing.”

If Pauly was put off by the punks in front of him, he didn’t show it. He merely picked up the microphone stand, nodded at the musicians and then sang he did.

If he didn’t look like a rock star before, it changed the moment his voice started, and it never stopped, the echoes of his sound filling the room and embracing even the punks who suddenly stepped back in awe.

Pauly was not nervous now, exuding a confidence that would later become his trademark, as pure talent rained down on us like heavy mist that turned into something hot and all consuming. It fell over us, and turned us hot, too, and the crowd swayed with it, and the mood of the room became something more powerful than anything I had seen in church, filled with some aspect of old time religion, but with a twist, with a sense that this was a private religion and Pauly was our pastor, inviting us to partake of his gospel.

We never did get to talk to him that day. Pauly got swept away by the crowd, and eventually, Hank and I headed outside, and finally to the bus to New York City.

Hank did all the talking. I could say nothing I was utterly blown away.


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