December 1995 was right in the thick of my twenties. On the 12th of the month I turned twenty-seven. Six weeks before, I purchased my very first house, where I lived with my two dogs: Sylvia and Jodi.
I was still working in the marketing department of Crest Audio in Paramus, NJ. I had a good life, a good job and great friends. I was lacking a girlfriend, but I figured that would sort itself out soon enough.
I have written before about how my job in the pro audio industry afforded me many opportunities to see concerts in all sorts of venues. One of these venues was a club called Tramps, at 51 West 21st Street in New York City.
My company had great rapport with the house mix engineer, a guy named Baker Lee, and through that relationship I saw:
- Kool & The Gang w/ The Gap Band
- The Fugees (another great story)
- They Might Be Giants w/ The Martinis
Exactly two decades before this writing, as the end of 1995 approached, my group of friends was trying to figure out what we should all do for New Year’s Eve.
New Year’s Eve to a single person is equal parts anticipation and disappointment. My personal experience never once strayed from that formula.
As we weighed our options, I threw in the fact that They Might Be Giants was playing a midnight show at Tramps. Furthermore I was confident I could get a few of us in for free. That sealed the deal. The lot of us (about eight guys if memory serves) would plan some other things, but the anchor event of New Year’s Eve 1995-1996 would be the concert at Tramps.
One of the guys in our posse actually had a girlfriend, and he thought she could round up a bunch of her friends to join us in the sweaty scrum that is a New York City club show.
December came to its natural end, and we all gathered at an apartment in the meat-packing district where a few of the guys lived. We hung out, ate some dinner, and consumed adult beverages before heading out to the club.
The doors opened at eleven and the first act (a pretty bad outfit called the Martinis) did a forty-five minute set leading up to the New Year. Our friend with the girlfriend had delivered, and there at the club was group of twenty-something women as unattached as the rest of us.
Between the opening and the main act, I observed my friend Stu getting rather chummy with one of the ladies, but then The Might Be Giants took the stage and we all went nuts for more than two hours.
They played everything. In fact I was able to find a setlist from that very show. If you’re a fan, you can easily see how epic this was, especially in a venue that held fewer than 1,000 people.
My personal favorite TMBG song, Particle Man, showed up about three-quarters of the way through the show, and if you know the song at all, it will not surprise you to learn that there was a fight… and triangle won.
It was well after 2:00am by the time the show let out, and we were all pumped-up and very awake. As we exited the club, there was a stack of show posters free for the taking. Clubs often do this. In the weeks leading up to the show they plaster posters all over town, but once the show has come and gone the posters have no value so they give them away to fans. I grabbed one for my dad since he is a huge TMBG fan. I sent it home to him in Rochester and he proudly hung it in the basement (my mom… not a fan).
My group of friends and our female counterparts spilled out onto 21st St. to figure out what the night had left for us. Some said they were tired and went home, a few decided to find an all-night diner and I’m pretty sure I chose to go home at that point. It had been the best New Year’s Eve of my life so far and I figured better to end on a high-note.
1996 began, and as per normal the newness if the year faded into the routines from the year just closed.
There was one small difference however. A spark produced amid the crowd of that midnight show had managed to survive and grow into a flickering flame. Stu had found Liz, and Liz had found Stu, making the best New Year’s Eve I’d ever had, even better.
If you think this is the end of the story, you’d be wrong.
My life progressed as lives do. In April of 1996 I started a new job in IT consulting. In 1998 I met my now wife and moved back to Rochester. We were engaged in October 1998 and got married in May 1999. In 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2004 we made additions to what is now a very happy family of six.
Stu and Liz progressed as well. A few dates after that “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve,” they became a couple, and they continued as such until January 1st, 1999 (exactly three years form the day they met) when Stu asked Liz to marry him, and she said yes.
They planned an October wedding and I was asked to be part of the wedding party. Having been his friend since 1987 and having been there the night it all began, I was honored to stand up for them both.
In 1999, I was working for a little company in Webster, NY – one town over from my native Penfield. From the house Emily and I lived in, I would drive north seven miles each morning passing my parents house one mile into the trip.
From the moment I learned of their engagement, I tried to come up with a unique and meaningful wedding gift. I thought about trying to get the two guys from They Might Be Giants to sign the poster that still hung in my parent’s basement, but the logistics of that seemed too steep a hill to climb.
In my hometown of Penfield, NY is a little radio station called WBER. It was created in 1985 as part of the NY State vocational education program to provide an actual working radio station where high school students could get real-world experience. To this day it serves that purpose, but it evolved into so much more. In 1999, I lived less than one mile north of WBER.
The tagline for WBER is “The Only Station That Matters,” and in a world surrounded by a desert of corporate owned and programmed radio, WBER has always been a musical oasis. If you’re from the metro NY area, WBER is our WFMU. If you’re from DC, WBER is our WHFS. Hopefully you get the idea.
One Friday in the summer of 1999, after a long day at the office I climbed into my Dodge Durango to head home. I was planning to head out of town after a brief stop at home, but when the radio came on in the car my plans immediately changed.
Live on WBER were both John Flansburgh, and John Linnell of They Might Be Giants. They were being interviewed ahead of a show in Rochester that very evening.
I put the car into gear and headed straight for my parent’s house.
When I arrived, they were not home so I had to run around to the back of the house, enter the garage from behind and retrieve the spare key from where they used to hide it in an oven mitt on the wall. I let myself in, ran to the basement, carefully removed the poster from the wall and headed back to the car.
As I drove the remaining two miles to the station, I could hear the interview was wrapping up so drove on the upper edge of acceptable speeds through our tidy suburban town.
As I pulled into the WBER parking lot, they were still on the radio so I got out of the car, Sharpie in hand, and waited. A few minutes later, John and John emerged from the studio door, I approached them, quickly told the story of the night at Tramps and my two, soon-to-be-married friends. I handed over the Sharpie and there on the hood of my red Durango, they signed the poster.
A few short months later, Stu and Liz were married, and I presented them with the framed, signed memento from the night everything changed for them both. The poster hangs to this day in the sunroom of their New Jersey home.
I have had several not-so-sucky New Year’s Eve’s in the twenty years since that night at Tramps, but I can say for sure no other “last night of the year” has produced anything as important, happy and long-lasting as the night Stu met Liz, and Liz met Stu.
Happy New Year to you all, and may 2016 bring you joy, happiness, and good fortune.
And now, for those who know it, and even more importantly for those who don’t, I give you Particle Man.
Copyright © 2016 – Stephen S. Nazarian – All rights reserved