Thursday, December 11, 2014

Rooting Up A Christmas Throwback

Right about now a lot of us are cringing as carols assault our ears wherever we go. Bearing that in mind, December's Song of the Month is one you don't often hear this time of year even though it is seasonal.

But first a little back ground.

photo by Alan Kresse
If you went to the University of Maryland in the last century, you might remember the Varsity Grill in College Park. I imagine at one time or another this little bar on Route 1 served clean shaven football players accompanied by their lanky blonde dates wearing letter jackets. However, by the time I arrived on the scene in the late 1970s, those days were long gone. The Grill was more of a blue collar establishment frequented by biker gangs, and dotted with scruffy college students. The bulk of the Terrapin freshmen could be found across the street dousing themselves with beer at the 'Vous.

photo by Alan Kresse

Never one to fit in anywhere, I felt more at home with the bikers.

Varsity Grill circa 1979/photo by Alan Kresse 
One night, way back when, friends hanging at the Grill were all geared up to see a band playing down the block. Everybody said we had to go check it out. I think we all stumbled through a rear door in the Grill and down an alley to get the Back Room, but those memories are hazy, and I may well be wrong. What I do remember is the place was seething with bodies by the time we walked in. The rickety balcony (which was out of puking range) felt only marginally safer than being in that crazy crowd below which was writhing in front of an even wilder scene on stage. It was the first time I had ever heard of "Root Boy Slim and The Sex Change Band."

That may have been the night the act was banned in College Park, but only temporarily. The band played on - well into the 1980s.  Foster MacKenzie III (aka Root Boy Slim) was a brilliant and witty man given to boisterous excess in all he did. He lived large, and he died too young, but he left DC a legacy of crazy stories and songs. As the old TV commercials used to say- who could forget classics like "Mood Ring?" ? Or "Boogie 'Til You Puke?" And of course (finally getting to the point) "Christmas at K- Mart."

This dark little number confronts our commercial society head on and thus qualifies for DC ROCKS' song of the month. When the rat race of shopping reaches a frenzied pitch,  I say retreat.  Scrounge up something strong to sip on, put your feet up and revive your spirit with a little satire and a nod to Slim who will always be missed in 7-Elevens and old haunts throughout D.C.

P. S. DC ROCKS thanks Alan Kresse for many of the photos in this piece. It sure comes in handy having a college house mate who was sober enough to take great pictures once upon a time. He still is a stellar photographer.


  1. Went to Ramones at the Varsity Grill
    Feb 79. Very oversold gig. Luckless
    opening band booed offstage. All glass-
    ware broken as people stood on tables!

  2. Went to the Ramones show at the Varsity
    Grill in Feb 79. Club very oversold.
    Luckless opening band booed offstage.
    All glassware broken, standing on tables!

  3. Great blog! I remember well. Circa 78-79. Still keep in touch with friends from that era. Backroom/Varsity Grill! ptmt86