CBGB fever

THERE AREN’T many occasions that my mother’s green polyester wraparound halter top appears in public.

This midriff–bearing shmata shows way too much skin for a somewhat respectable grown woman. I keep it in the bottom drawer because it’s a vital part of my I Dream of Jeannie Halloween ensemble. It might find its way on my person after dark on St. Patrick’s Day, if I’m still standing. Purchased sometime during the Ford administration in what I can only presume was a passing fit of fancy, it really has no business in this century.

Yet paired with some high–waisted jeans, this shimmery and extremely scratchy garment seemed the perfect sartorial choice for last week’s open casting call at Meddin Studios. The producers of CBGB had put out the word that they were looking for local musicians, biker–types and folks with a “‘70s look” to fill in the blanks of their superstar cast and if this halter ain’t ‘70s, I don’t know what is.

My boss had kindly pointed out that the producers did not necessarily want people who grew up in the ‘70s, and I harbored no expectations. Of course, I did have a fleeting fantasy that the casting director would see me and shriek, “You’re exactly what we’ve been looking for! We need a 40 year–old woman to play Joey Ramone’s mother!” but aren’t we all allowed our harmless delusions? All I knew is I had somewhere to rock the green boob slinger without getting arrested.

Meddin’s parking pad was full up by the 11 a.m call, its entryway crowded with leather jackets and platform shoes. By the time I’d parked in a muddy lot and traipsed down Louisville Road, the humidity had pretty much morphed my ‘70s look into something out of Return of the Swamp Thing (also filmed locally, but you probably already knew that.)

“It’s fine, you look more punk rock that way anyway,” whispered the very kind Matthew Gruber, a “casting associate” charged with handling the traffic in the lobby. Inside, the interpretation of “‘70s” ranged from Deadhead to Dead Kennedys, the latter more apropos of the burgeoning punk scene the film is slated to capture. With my swamp hair and disco halter, I looked more like I fell in the gutter on my way over from Studio 54.

Gruber directed me to an empty folding chair next to Shane Gray, a local actor and comedian who can currently be glimpsed in another locally–filmed production, Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies.)

“This is your basic assembly line casting,” he informed me. “You get your paperwork at one table, then take it over to the photo table, then you got to another table, where if they like you, they’ll give you some lines to read and send you to another table. Then you wait.”

In 10 minutes, I filled out my form, had my photo snapped and was immediately dismissed. “We’ll be in touch!” said a nice young man with perfect teeth.

No script pages for this ‘70s baby. But I hung around because I wasn’t ready to change out of my stellar outfit, which included feather earrings à la Buffy Sainte–Marie, circa Sesame Street 1977. Also, I kept running into people I knew.
Some, like artist Stacie Albano, didn’t make it to the coveted script table, either.

“Eh, I’m just here playing make believe,” she laughed. “Now I’ve got to go pick up my kids.”

I cleaved onto Morningstar Arts coordinator Carol Greenberg, who regaled me with tales of her own visit to the real CBGB club when she was a teenager in New York (without disclosing the year, of course.) She was wearing a wildly–patterned nik nik shirt that she’d saved all these decades, and even though she wasn’t chosen to read lines, she still hopes to contribute to the film’s wardrobe department.

“I’ve saved all of my suede vests, go–go boots, wedgies, you name it,” vaunted the longtime local film advocate.  “My closet is the best costume trunk in town.”

Greenberg might not necessarily want to lend her vintage vault out to the punks of the famously rank CBGB, even if it’s only actors on a set.

“It was a crazy, filthy, insane place,” smiled director Jody Savin in between casting chores. “We’re excited to re-create it here at Meddin.”

Re-create indeed: In the name of authenticity, Savin and Unclaimed Freight Productions, the company she runs with her producer husband, Randall Miller, imported the actual toilets from the Bowery club for the film. Maybe there’s an upside to not being cast—I might not be able to suppress the urge to take some cleaning spray to those icky commodes.

Holding scripts were other familiar faces: Psychotronic Film guru Jim Reed waited for hours for his turn to audition, as did my favorite afternoon barista Jordan Mooney, who unfortunately had to ditch his place in line to make his shift at Foxy Loxy. (Dude, so un–punk rock of you. But high–five for keeping your job. Who says the American work ethic is dead?)

Bluesman Eric Culberson tried to convince me he’d grown facial hair just for the call, yet anyone who’s seen him play in the last few months knows better: He’s always got some semblance of a ‘stache going on. The casting folks apparently liked his Starsky vibe so much they asked him to grow some muttonchops to match.

My casting call professor Shane Gray wasn’t too surprised he’d made it through to read for the producers, but not because of his film experience.

“I’m not what you call a good–looking guy,” he deadpanned. “Have you seen the first members of the punk scene? They were not pretty people.”

Well, that must be why I didn’t get a part—I’m just too pretty. I’m sorry Mom’s halter won’t be immortalized onscreen, but there’s always Halloween.


About The Author

Jessica Leigh Lebos

Community Editor Jessica Leigh Lebos has been writing about interesting people, vexing issues and anything involving free food for more than 20 years. She introduces herself at cocktail parties as southern by marriage.
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