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At some point last weekend when I was idling at Red Onion Records & Books the store’s proprietor, Josh Harkavy, showed me a copy of a record called Live at The Black Alley by an early-’70s DC bar band called The Time Machine.
The record itself is ok—it’s mainly composed of tight but decisively smooth covers of then contemporary radio fare like Albert Hammond (The Strokes guitarist’s dad) and Mike Hazlewood’s “It Never Rains (In Southern California).” The B-side skews a little more country and isn’t very good.
What’s really fascinating though, for me at least, is the cover. At first glance the photo collage presented here appears pretty run of the mill—there’s an implied narrative of long nights, crazy gigs, rock tunes, and female admirers. But a closer look reveals something a little more ponderous.
First of all, notice that the members of The Time Machine unanimously favor velour jackets, ruffled shirts, and bow ties—a style completely appropriate for say, The Four Seasons. But by the early ’70s, when this record was released, the band must have seemed hopelessly dated to anybody who a) had a pulse or b) wasn’t a member of Spiro Agnew’s entourage. Did the counter culture explosion of the sixties miss The Back Alley entirely? Or was the club merely a safe haven from the anxiety of modern culture—a Medieval Times for people unwilling to let go of 1962? Was the name “The Time Machine” meant in earnest?
Secondly (and perhaps this answers the questions posed above) almost all of the club patrons/fans/groupies are deep into middle age. The dancing woman in the choker aside, this was an audience composed entirely of bluehairs and men who bore a striking resemblance to Rodney Dangerfield. Yet the members of The Time Machine appear young and fresh faced, often with shaggy hair and the glazed over, slap-happy, facial expressions of dudes who had, at the very least, tried marijuana. What in the world were they doing in this place? Better question, why were they so enamored with The Back Alley and its denizens that they wanted the world to know that they had performed there?
It all looks surreal and a little bit frightening in a way that I can’t exactly put my finger on. It’s one oxygen mask and a “In Dreams” cover short of scene from Blue Velvet. Maybe David Lynch was even there—half of a blurry face in one of these photographs soaking up the vibe for future use.
Does anybody know what happened to this place? Is it still around? If I go there will I be able to sit down at a table, order a PBR, and shoot the bull with this guy?