I subscribe to Time Out New York and have for years. The weekly slick keeps me up to speed on all things Gotham, with sections on art, fashion, books, film, dance, theater and music. Not only does it prepare me for my annual visit to the Big Apple, it points out hot New York trends destined for Omaha in the next year (or two).
A new TONY feature is a top-10 list that closes each issue. Last week, the list was “New York City’s Top Ten All-Time Greatest Rock Stars.” The list included names from the not-so-distant past, but most were heroes of NYC’s CBGB-fueled punk-rock history, which got me thinking about Scott Severin.
Severin is a local singer/songwriter/rocker familiar to anyone who’s followed the Omaha music scene over the past 10 years. Severin oozes NYC music history. He was born in Brooklyn in the same hospital as Lou Reed and spent his wild years in Manhattan in an area now known as the Lower East Side. On any given day, Severin would run into Allen Ginsberg, Richard Hell, Lydia Lunch or Klaus Nomi while walking to the corner store to get a pack of smokes.
He says he made a living doing odd jobs and “things outside the margins of conventional employment.” He also hung out at NYC’s most famous clubs during the height of the punk era. “I wasn’t afraid of celebrities,” Severin said. “I was basically a hanger-on.”
Who better to validate — or discredit — TONY’s list? So without further ado, here’s Severin’s take on TONY‘s picks:
No. 10: Gene Simmons — “I always considered Gene a feckless goon and a shrewd media manipulator, but it’s hard to speak badly of a successful Jewish rock star. Over the course of a month in 1973 I saw three different bands in a club called The Coventry in Queens: Blue Oyster Cult, The New York Dolls and KISS. I thought BOC was terrible. I thought the New York Dolls would be bigger than the Rolling Stones, and I thought KISS was the worst band I saw in my life.”
No. 9: Patti Smith — “I worship Patti Smith. When Horses came out in 1975 they played the album on WNEW. It was like nothing else anyone had heard on commercial radio before. I went out that day and bought the album. She was shy and self-effacing off stage. I would see her on the street periodically in the late ‘90s after her husband died. She didn’t carry any rock star airs. Her kid, Jackson, was a really sweet kid.”
No. 8: Julian Casablancas — “I thought The Strokes were a cool and interesting band. I thought their first album was good, but they were a flash in the pan.”
No. 7: Debbie Harry — “Blondie were wicked cool. I never met her, but I’ve been in the same room as her. She was very short. She didn’t come up to my chin, even shorter than Iggy, almost as short as Paul Simon. Blondie became international stars, and Chris Stein was a bad-ass, he’d kick your ass.”
No. 6: David Johansen — “I used to go the Mercer Arts Center and Max’s Kansas City where the New York Dolls held court. I became fast friends with him some years after the Dolls broke up. For an 8-year period we saw each other every day. Everything I know about being an entertainer and performance artist I learned at David’s feet. I probably saw him perform 300 times. He was never a great singer and with rare exceptions, never a great songwriter. His great talent was being able to smile and melt a crowd. He knows how to hold a crowd in the palm of his hand, and that’s the reason for his success.”
No. 5: James Murphy —“No comment. I don’t know enough about him.”
No. 4: Joey Ramone — “I saw him in the band Sniper in 1972 or ’73. The thing most people don’t remember about Joey was that he was a good singer, unlike Johnny Rotten or Joe Strummer or Stiv Bators or Tom Verlaine, he could carry a tune and had a good pop sensibility. I met him once or twice. I knew his girlfriend better than him. The Ramones were iconic.”
No. 3: Karen O — “Matt Whipkey dragged me to see (the Yeah Yeah Yeahs) at Sokol Auditorium. She oozed charm and humor and sexiness, but I don’t know if she belongs in the top-10.”
No. 2: Richard Hell — “He’s like the Zelig of the New York punk scene who somehow ended up in Television and Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers and then was signed by Sire without displaying any discernible talent. The first Voidoids record is really good, but he doesn’t even belong in a top-10 bands list of people who played at CBGB’s.”
No. 1: Lou Reed — “I can buy that. The Velvet Underground were one of the greatest rock bands of all time. Lou was a wonderful if extremely inconsistent songwriter, and an extremely cantankerous and mean-spirited person. I met him on a couple of occasions and he did not in any way ooze friendship or politeness, but if you caught him off guard and treated him like he wasn’t Lou Reed, he could be funny and generous and nice.”
Severin said missing from the list is every pre-Velvet Underground act. “Neil Diamond is missing. Carol King is missing. What about Talking Heads, Madonna, Paul Simon? The entire hip-hop scene is missing, and they’re ignoring the entire ‘60s folk scene.”
Want to argue with him about it? Go to one of his shows. Severin is playing at Venue 51 and The Barley Street Tavern July 18, and Duffy’s in Lincoln July 23. And if you have a few spare bucks, help him replace his guitar, which recently was stolen. Go to gofundme.com/aja8ns and find out more.
Over The Edge is a weekly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, music, the media and the arts. Email Tim at firstname.lastname@example.org.