Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Human Jukebox

Nineteen eighty-four wasn't any more inspiriting a year down at the rock and roll club than anywhere else, but a few people and places earned my personal thanks for resisting the brutal gentrification the money boys are sticking to every phase of city life. For snazzy blues from Jay McNeely to Buster P., there's Terry Dunne at Tramps. Music-maker for the new and not yet quite upscaled-to-death bohemia across the river is Steve Fallon of Maxwell's. And holding out on the Bowery, I hope forever, is CBGB's unvanquishable Hilly Kristal.

The best news on this militantly unpretentious scene, however, has been a club that reopened (for the third time since I began counting) in the fall of 1983 and struggled through a year-plus of adventurous shows. Concentrating on the American bands who have long been the staple of the nondisco/nonvideo circuit, but never chary of reggae or jazz or salsa or calypso, Irving Plaza has proven a gratifyingly casual and comfortable hotbed of good times, low rent energy, and unrepentant upfulness. From Los Lobos/NRBQ to Replacements/Dumptruck, from Linton Kwesi Johnson to Buster P. to the dB's, I enjoyed a lot of great concerts there in 1984.

For the place I'll thank owner Chuck Terzella first, and for the concerts the venue's guiding light, Frank Gallagher, who installed and runs the high-definition sound system and, even more important, takes prime responsibility for the booking. But the figure who sums up the sheer vibes of the place for me is Andy Dunkley, a/k/a the Human Jukebox, who programs the tween-set diversion--sometimes (oh yes) for dancing, but sometimes (oh yes again) for just moving the blood. One of England's handful of professional concert deejays before he came over for an abortive run at the abortive Bond's in 1981, Dunkley is a 42-year-old reformed accountant who began buying records as a kid in Birmingham and never stopped. He works off a stock of 2000 albums and 500 singles on this side of the ocean, with five times as many back in Britannia (like a true collector, he really misses the singles), and in the great deejay tradition, his tastes are generous--he enjoys things a curmudgeonly critic might resist. Without him I would never have given it up to great new cuts by True West and Barrence Whitfield, or gone back to my Johnny Guitar Watson albums. When I think about rock and roll in 1984, the image that will come to mind is of Andy in his earphones on Irving Plaza's south balcony, bouncing and bopping to whatever glorious gem he'd already put on even while he cued up the perfect segue.

Village Voice, Jan. 8, 1985