The late ’70s and early ’80s were some of music’s finest years. With a plethora of bona fide rock bands hitting the charts, there were more than enough artist choices to fit the musical tastes of all music fans that would last from then into the current decade of a now barren industry.
The late ’70s was also a time of great live musical offerings. And in our area, clubs sprung up from Seaside Heights to the northern suburbs of New York City and beyond. One of those successful rooms was Circus-Circus in Bergenfield, New Jersey. Owned and operated by Jack, Ricky and Jack Bandazian Jr., The Circus (the name was shortened to The Circus in 1981 after Las Vegas-owned Circus-Circus demanded that they changed their name) made its debut in March of 1979 after a quick opening party of special invites.
It was a hard-earned matter of logistics and luck mixed with hard work and the risk that turned The Circus into one of New Jersey’s biggest and most attended rooms in the Tri-State Area. Brother Jack booked the bands and was responsible for bringing some of the biggest names in rock to the Bergenfield room. From Cyndi Lauper, Johnny Thunders, David Johannsen, Steve Forbert and Twisted Sister to The Ramones, Steppenwolf and New Riders Of The Purple Sage, Jack Jr. kept the room and crowd humming with entertainment of the finest caliber.
Local bands played a huge part in the club’s success as well. Groups such as Crystal Ship (Doors tribute band), Badlands, Condor, Yasgers Farm and Friends took The Circus stage on any given night and provided hours and hours of great musical times for fans of the bands they covered. But of course, like most things that start off great, the eventual economic collapse in conjunction with drinking age increases and other laws and expenses brought the end to the big rock rooms all over the area. With the exception of rooms such as The Stone Pony or The Headliner, they’re all gone.
But Rick Bandazian tells a story of much more than a successful room with Rock And Roll Meltdown. He describes the combination of a successful business with stories told firsthand by employees and patrons, mixing things up with personal anecdotes and tales of the timeframe. As he says at one point, “The walls can’t talk but people can.” And that’s what they do in Rock And Roll Meltdown.
From bouncers to bartenders and customers and beer backs, they tell the story of a scene that will never be duplicated again. Stories of girls and bands and packed, seething rooms. Stories of fights, personality clashes and the money that rolled in all line the pages of this fascinating look into the existence and survival of one of the Garden State underdogs. He even has a chapter dedicated to roadies. Roadies are another group of individuals with lots of stories and adventures to tell, and Rick immortalizes them in their very own book chapter.
He also talks about some of the bad business experiences that went down during the club’s run. One such incident happened sometime in 1982 when they thought they had hired and paid for the band Humble Pie, as Rick says, “All totaled we lost $5,000 ($14,338 in today’s dollars) in one night and we walked away with some serious egg on our faces for not delivering that show. Customers who came out to rock on that rainy Saturday night were disappointed, to say the least. Many had traveled great distances to see the show.”
But besides the occasional bad vibe or two, the book waxes poetic on the timeframe and the people that made things as great as they were. Chapters include the story of when the band Blue Angel played the club. They were the opening act for David Johansen and as the opening act, they got the shitty dressing room. Bandazian goes on to tell of a spandex-clad band member unloading on him as to the quality of the dressing room. Brother Jack basically told her that they were the opener and if she didn’t like it they could leave right then and there. Of course, they didn’t, and the singer went on to wow the room and leave Rick asking the DJ who she was. That singer turned out to be none other than Cyndi Lauper, who would go on to set the tone for much of the ’80s style of pop music.
Rick also takes a look at band and management riders, the sensible and not-so-sensible demands and the items that they requested. From normal requests such as water and juice to demands for liquor and special dressing rooms, Rick and Jack probably heard it all. When you read the book you’ll be able to see some of the requests and demands from the artists.
Rick also discusses everything they did for promotions. The Aquarian Weekly is heavily featured in the book as the rock bible it continues to be till this very day. Between radio, print and word of mouth way before the days of social media, Rick and crew spent tons of money getting the people to the room in the smartest ways possible.
All in all Rock And Roll Meltdown is an interesting set of memorable snapshots from the mind of the guy who was there from the beginning till the end and it’s a well-rounded look into the operations and day-to-day goings on of the club and its surrounding scene. Rick is a natural storyteller and the book is laid out in a very welcoming manner. The stories from employees and past patrons are especially great as they tell things that happened in their own unique and intriguing way.
Rick’s ability to tell things as they actually happened while delivering it in a good-natured and amicable way is especially gratifying and it really makes this book a readable piece of New Jersey history.
For me to tell you any more would give away the book and this is one you’ll want to experience for yourself. Rick Bandazian may be out of the club business today, but his wealth of experience and storytelling style will always remain to tell the tale of a time when music was at its zenith.
For more information on Rock And Roll Meltdown, head over to iBooks, Amazon, Nook Books, or directly at the book’s website over at rockandrollmeltdown.com/book.