Maxwell’s, the legendary Hoboken, NJ rock club closed on July, 31st after 34 years.
Although I worked there for the last three years, I started going to the club in 1982 and it’s been my favorite rock joint ever since.
Several things come to mind when asked to explain what made Maxwell’s so special; Firstly, nobody checked to see if you had the right haircut when you came in. The front bar/restaurant was immediately welcoming. The food was great and so was the jukebox and there was always work by local artists displayed on the walls. In earlier times there were dance recitals, poetry readings and a regular film series. It was a great place to hang out even if you didn’t happen to come there for the music that night.
When you did come for the music, you really understood what made Maxwell’s so special. Physically, the back room held about 200 people. The stage was about 2 feet high so you could really see ’em sweat. The sightlines were really good and the sound was always excellent. (Bad sound guys didn’t last very long).
The real thing that made Maxwell’s so great was the wildly inventive and eclectic booking policy. Initially, the bookings reflected the tastes of original owner Steve Fallon and later Todd Abramson, who also became an owner through the rest of the club’s run. Both men had great instincts and they were always willing to give new untested artists a shot. If you had something to say, you got a place to say it and an audience that was both eager for, and attuned to, new sounds. Maxwell’s also treated bands extremely fairly. There was always a meal and a drink and even if you didn’t draw enough to make any money, there was often a floor to sleep on and gas money to get to the next gig. A rock club treating a band fairly shouldn’t be a headline but sadly it is and it kept bands coming back and playing there long after they outgrew the club.
You’ve probably heard that R.E.M., Nirvana, Yo La Tengo, Pavement, The Feelies, Sonic Youth, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and err, Oasis played crucial early gigs there. You’ve certainly heard that Bruce Springsteen filmed his “Glory Days” video there, too, but the club also hosted Sun Ra, The Cowsills, Soundgarden, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Doug Sahm, Schooly D, Wanda Jackson, The dBs, Syl Johnson, Alex Chilton, The Go-Betweens and thousands of others. Hell, even Blue Oyster Cult played there once under an assumed name.
I was lucky to see many of the aforementioned shows. I was luckier still to make some great friends amongst the music fans in the room. I spent half of my life going there and I’ll always remember it as club who’s mission was to put great music and great fans together and let it rip; RIP Maxwell’s.
Mike Rosenberg is a life-long music geek, which includes 35 years of hard labor at various record labels, night clubs and too many record stores to keep track of.
The first record he bought was Telstar by The Tornados.