The 35th anniversary of The Clash’s legendary run of shows at Bond’s in New York City recently passed. At the time I was 23 and living in Philadelphia. I’d only seen the band once, the year before, and was crazy about them – and Philly was just a two hour train ride away from NYC. I bought tickets for a couple of shows and made plans.
May 30th 1981, and my buddy Frank and I had tickets for the matinee, which seemed funny – rock and roll in the afternoon? – but fine with us. We rushed to Bond’s from the train, but when we got there, we couldn’t get near the place; the street was swarming with would-be concert goers, lots of them – and lots of cops. Uh-oh. We asked people what was going on and learned the show had been canceled. Canceled? Turned out the shows had been oversold, to the tune of twice the legal capacity, so the fire department stepped in.
We stayed there a little while, partly stunned by the bad news and partly curious to see what would happen next. At some point we got the idea to head over to the Gramercy Park hotel, where we knew the band was staying. Sure enough, when we got there Joe was in the lobby, talking to a handful of unhappy fans. He was apologetic and assured us that the band was going to try to make it up to us. Some of the kids were angry and started yelling at him; we could see his anger and frustration with the situation but he stayed calm. As unhappy as we were, it was still exciting to be there with Joe and his lovely girlfriend Gabby. Eventually we headed for home, clutching our unused tickets and wondering what would happen – would the band really make it up to us?
They did indeed, adding several more shows, which more than doubled the run, and a few evenings later I was there for the first of what would be three shows for me. Bond’s was a big club and it was both exciting and a relief to finally see the band there. The opening acts that night were the Senders and the Treacherous Three. I confess I don’t have many memories from that night – I just remember having a great time, and being thrilled to see this band I loved right in front of me. It was a Wednesday night, which meant I must have gotten back to Philly in the wee hours on the train. Whatever I did the next day, I’m sure I was smiling.
Three days later, and I was back for show #2. This time the opening acts included Funkapolitan and The Brattles, a wonderful, perfectly named band of 12 year olds. I managed to get up close every night, and I remember banging on the rail in time to the music. I also remember leaning on it as the show wore on – these long nights were endurance tests – and even, I blush to admit, oh so briefly dozing off during ‘Charlie Don’t Surf’ (no reflection on the song, just my weariness). But it only lasted a few seconds; the rest of the time, you can be sure I was wide awake – dancing, singing, cheering. It was incredible watching this powerful band, especially Joe Strummer, who put his heart, soul, and guts into every performance. No wonder I was so nuts about him.
When the show ended, I ducked into the ladies room, still dazed, where I saw two of the most breathtakingly beautiful young women I’d ever encountered. Tall, slim, blonde, wearing fabulous rocker/cowgirl outfits – they were dazzling. I recognized one as Gabby, Joe’s girlfriend, who I’d seen the week before at their hotel; I wasn’t sure who the other one was but suspected she, too, was some rocker’s girl. Sure enough, while I washed my hands, eavesdropping as subtly as I could, I learned she was Joe Ely’s girlfriend. I’d only recently discovered Ely and thought he was marvellous. At this point they both became aware of me, looked over, and smiled. I fought back my shyness and decided to start talking. I told Gabby how much I loved the band and loved her Joe, and told the other woman how great I thought her Joe was. They were both very sweet and gracious; well, I wasn’t exactly a threat to them, so why not. Gabby in particular was absolutely charming, and after listening to me babble a bit more about how crazy I was about Joe and the band, she put her arm around me and said “Well then, you simply must come with me and tell him!”
Before I knew what was happening, I was swept backstage. And there he was – Joe Strummer. He was drinking a beer, just hanging. He looked gorgeous, practically glowing. Gabby took my hand and presented me to Joe, telling him “This is Sheva, and she loves you!” I could feel my face turning bright red. I expected Joe to smile, put out his hand, say something; instead he looked at me, threw his arms around me, and hugged me tight for what felt like several long lovely minutes. Had I been a less sturdy lass I think I might have fainted. When he let go, he gave me a grin and asked me how I liked the show. We talked for a few minutes, then he signed my stub (which you’ll note has the wrong date). I thanked him, thanked Gabby, and stumbled out of the club. I don’t recall how I got home that night, but I would not rule out the possibility of having floated all the way back to Philly.
And then it was June 9th, and my third and last Clash show at Bond’s. The opening act on this night was The Fall. I’d seen them before and didn’t care for them at all (in an example of How Life Works, I’ve spent the last 33 years with someone who absolutely loves them). Oh, these shows were so damned good. I tended to hang back after the shows were over. I’d speak to Baker, the band’s adorable young roadie, or their road manager Johnny Green – both always friendly and willing to chat with fans. On this night I just sat for a moment after those chats. These shows were an emotional experience for me – I loved the band so much, and of course had that crush on Joe; the end of the night was as likely to find me crying as cheering, and between all that, the late hour, and knowing it was the last show I’d see, this was definitely a crying night. I heard a soft voice ask “Are you OK?” and looked up to see a somewhat older woman standing there wearing a fabulous thrift store dress, a look of concern on her face. I told her “Yes, yes, I’m OK – just filled with emotion.” She understood immediately, and we commiserated for a bit. She didn’t make fun of me for getting weepy; she got it.
As we spoke I realized I’d seen her before. She was the woman who had once materialized next to me at a Pretenders show, grabbing my hand and dancing with me when they did the Small Faces classic ‘What’cha Gonna Do About It’. She was the one I would spot in the front of the line for so many shows at Stars, in the days when the first 15 or so got in free. I didn’t know her name or where she was from, only that she was clearly a rock and roll kindred spirit who had this way of simply appearing now and then. We didn’t exchange names that night either; she stayed with me a few minutes more, then said good night. A little over a year later I was in an almost empty hotel bar outside of Philadelphia. It was well past midnight, I was with my gaggle of Squeeze girls, and we’d just said good night to the band, having hung out after their show. Two women joined us – the kind, mysterious woman last seen at the Clash, and her adorable friend, both decked out in yet more thrift store splendor. The conversation drifted from Squeeze to Elvis Costello, with yours truly saying ‘Oh, I love him! The two strangers looked at each other and smiled: ‘You love Elvis, do you? You love seeing him?’ Murmured agreement and nodding heads all around.
‘Would you like to meet him?’ An enthusiastic, unanimous ‘Yes!’
At this point the two smiled broadly, assured us this was something that could be arranged quite easily, and proceeded to introduce themselves. Finally – the mysterious stranger, now casually offering me my heart’s desire, would have a name. And what a name – Cynthia Sagittarius. Cynthia Sagi-OHMYG-D!! I actually fell down, realizing that the woman before me was none other than the Cynthia Sagittarius immortalized in Robert Greenfield’s book STP, about the Rolling Stones’ 1972 American tour. I loved that book! And now here before me – Cynthia, who hitch-hiked across the country and in and out of Canada, following the band. Cynthia, who saw every single show on that tour. Who refused to be interviewed by Dick Cavett, because she didn’t want any fame, she just wanted to see the shows. That Cynthia! It was surreal; until that moment I hadn’t thought of her as being a real person, let alone one with whom I’d previously danced, and on whose shoulders I’d shed a quick tear.
We went on to become friends and traveling partners. And yes, thanks to her I got to see and hang out with Elvis many times over the next few years; we went to see The Clash together, too. Cynthia lived on the outskirts of life, with few of the conventional trappings – no social security number, no job, no bank account. She was devoted to music and to seeing the musicians she loved as often as possible, in as many places as possible. Smart, funny, argumentative, loving, generous. We drifted apart after several years and a few disagreements, but she always stayed in the back of my mind. I learned a few years ago that she passed away. It’s hard to believe that I’ll never see that shining freckled face or big sunny smile, hear that soft voice which could get so loud when she laughed, or watch her move gracefully in one of her fantastic old dresses.
RIP dear Cynthia. Thinking of you and all the wonderful moments we shared. Stay free.