Steven Wishnia played in bands in New York City in the 70s and 80s. He played with our friend Gene at some point, or points, I don’t really know any of the story, but I know about the scene. Partly because I arrived in New York in 1976, I like to say that I was drawn after hearing Horses in a record store in San Francisco, and partly because Gene has written about some of it here. And now, more so, because Wishnia has written a collection of stories about a guy and his bands.
There is no character named Steven, so this isn’t avowed memoir, but the voice is strong and singular. I trust that all of it happened, except maybe a few of the jokey turns of phrase, which sometimes work, sometimes don’t. But that’s the only criticism I’m listing here.
Wishnia ferociously recounts the tales of tours and police actions, too much drinking and some times when the vibe worked and the sex was good. Or the music was great. If you don’t like stories about a life in rock and roll, the sacrifices made for it, and the scant rewards that came from it—yet how important those rewards were—Exit 25 Utopia might not be for you.
But if a book that has a long list of permissions for the quoted lyrics in the back, which starts with More Fun, by the Blenders, We Are the Road Crew by Motorhead, and Book of Love by the Monotones, and ends with Queen Majesty by Ranking Trevor and the Jays, intrigues, find it, buy it and read it.
Here’s a quote from one of the later stories that is a good excuse to show Wishnia’s style and concerns (which are social as well as musical), and end with a song clip.
“Some people think being near death is romantic, like grabbing onto something before the nevermore. I don’t know about the white roses and wasting-disease shit. Yeah, but part of me still wants something that’s gonna make my heart beat like the drums on “Be My Baby,” wash over me like a wall of violins and reverb. When I fall in love with someone I even love her old zit scars. And part of me remembers waking out of a deep hangover in 1985 to find all my stuff piled on the living room floor of my old girlfriend’s apartment. She had the windows blacked out with black construction paper. She arrayed red candles on the table and was sitting there in a white nightgown with a glass of whiskey and a cigarette in one hand and a kitchen knife in the other. Marianne Faithfull was on the stereo purring with icy wrath. If you know the song you know what my sin was. The final touch was that she had been knitting.
I had to admire her sense of drama.”