BY BOB KRASNER
Jesse Malin has been rocking NYC for 40 years, since his days as the 12-year old leader of the hardcore punk band Heart Attack. He moved on to front the fondly remembered D Generation and then a solo career that included noted collaborations with Lucinda Williams, Billie Joe Armstrong and some guy from New Jersey named Bruce. Along the way, he became co-owner of three East Village bars – all within walking distance of his residence – Niagara, Lola and Bowery Electric. As if that’s not enough, he’s also the creative director at the club Berlin and a music producer.
Malin described his first solo album, “The Fine Art of Self Destruction” as being about “finding glory in the wreckage” and that’s pretty much what he’s managed again with his series of live streamed shows, created by necessity to deal with the times. Forced to close the clubs, cancel a tour and suffering the loss of a few friends to COVID, he found himself sitting at home – a self described workaholic with nothing to do.
“After just putting out a new album I was planning a tour, 100 dates, including the Glastonbury festival, when we got grounded,” he recounts. “We had some buzz and now I’m sitting in my house, very depressed. Friends and management encouraged me to do live streaming from home,” he continues. ” It didn’t appeal to me, but I decided to do it as a benefit for my band and crew.”
Taking a cue from his past project and blending it with the current situation, he titled the live series “The Fine Art of Self Distancing”, set up his iPhone and gave it a shot. “I made it into a show and tell,” he recalls. ” For the first show, I was nervous as hell. I played songs, suggested movies, told stories, recommended books and 10,000 people tuned in! We were hitting places I’ve never been to – Russia, South Africa, New Zealand,” he marvels.
Eventually, a masked keyboard player set up in the kitchen while Malin held court in the living room. As the COVID numbers got better and testing more available they moved to Berlin – the basement club at 2A – and then settled in at Bowery Electric. Local musicians such as Joseph Arthur, Felice Rosser and Lenny Kaye did live sets with the masked musicians while Zoom made it possible for Debbie Harry, Graham Parker, DMC (of Run-DMC), Jim Jarmusch, and HR (from Bad Brains) to participate.
“To me, music is an interactive sport that can be dismal without an audience, but we made it work,” explains Malin. “I have trouble using a DVD player, but I embraced the medium. Friends donated time, we added cameras and made it as much like a concert as possible.”
Malin has come to appreciate, even embrace the new outlet. “Artists are essential workers and music is a medicine, ” he states. “This is something we’re going through globally. Now, if you can’t see Heather Litteer in a New York club because you’re in France, you can still stream it.”
After doing three or so shows a month since last April, TFOSD ended the year with a holiday show that featured original tunes, guest stars and the Rolling Stones’ LP “Goat’s Head Soup ” performed in its entirety. This one was a benefit for the National Independent Venue Association and the Bowery Electric ( proceeds from previous shows have also gone to both). Lower East Side rocker Jill Fiore was happily part of this one, performing Malin’s “Brooklyn” with the band. “Jesse was wonderful that night. He brought a lot of joy into people’s lives and I was honored to be a part of it,” she said. “I felt that I connected with the audience, even though I couldn’t see them.”
Malin, who will be seen performing his version of ” The Jean Genie” for a star-studded Bowie live stream tribute on Jan. 8, is looking forward to streaming a “Best Of” compilation of his shows on Jan. 14. Going forward, he plans on having themes for the upcoming shows, with subjects such as “The Road”, an endless source of subject matter.
Malin is frustrated but philosophical, lamenting the politics and the losses of the last year but retaining hope and finding that there’s something to look forward to. “There’s something so special about live rock and roll,” he muses. “You can’t recreate a club in your apartment with an iPhone and a broomstick. When the live shows happen again, there’s going to be a lot of hugging and crying.”
Jesse Malin can be followed on Instagram at @jesse_malin and more info can be found at jessemalin.com.