TEENAGE RIOT

It was originally called The Salty Dog something-or-other. I can’t recall if those three words were followed by “saloon” or “tavern.” By the time my family moved to the beaches from Louisville, Kentucky in 1980, the bar had already sat vacant for quite some time. “Some guy was stabbed to death in there,” warned my dad, as we drove by in our ’77 Chevy Nova, surveying our new town. “That’s why they shut it down.” This bit of morbid local history made the cartoon of a smiling dog rendered in chipping white paint on the bar’s window pure menace.

In the early ’80s, the corner of First Street and Third Avenue North in Jax Beach was as decrepit and beat-up as the rest of the beachside strip. In any direction, there was dilapidation and neglect. At age eight, I had never seen street rats. But the rinky-dink boardwalk amusement rides a block south of that homicide scene were infested with vermin — some four-legged, others just sunburned and drunk. Back then, the beach was so casual, you’d be hard-pressed to distinguish city councilmembers from surf bums.

Around 1984, The Salty Dog became The Rock Shack. Essentially, a place for hard rock adolescents ages 15 to 25 to congregate. Earnest badasses would stand out front in their leather jackets and white denim jeans, cupping Marlboros and trading menacing stares with tourists in slow-moving traffic. The following year, the Faircloth family leased the seemingly-doomed space and opened Einstein A Go-Go. The Faircloths — dad Bill, mom Connie and sisters Terri and Tammie — had owned the beaches record store The Music Shop for years, when the word “indie” still referred to a speedway.

Many an afternoon, I would walk the mile-long trek from my family’s home on Second Avenue North and spend hours flipping through records. Tammie and Terri Faircloth would take turns razzing me for my purchases, which ranged from Celtic Frost to Jefferson Airplane. “You’re a metal hippie,” Tammie would laugh, but then direct me to some imported LP by a Swedish black metal band that she rightfully imagined fell in line with the worldview of a chubby, uncertain, book-loving 12-year-old.

By the time the Faircloths opened Einstein A Go-Go, I had been diagnosed as being bipolar and removed from public school, so confused by life that I willingly wore dashikis. Since I was more prone to reading Allen Ginsberg than brawling in the parking lot at a Dio concert, I’d pretty much failed as a metalhead. Looking for a new identity to wear, I walked once again toward the ocean.

My older brother had turned me onto punk bands like Devo, The Ramones, Sex Pistols and The Germs years earlier. So I wasn’t indifferent to what was then a sound that slipped through labels — punk, underground, college rock and, later, alternative. Quite frankly, I was initially afraid of stepping into the club. If I “went punk,” it might be yet another posture and stance from which I would fall.

The first show I attended at Einstein’s was a Fetchin’ Bones concert in 1986; the entire experience altered my 14-year-old consciousness. I eventually witnessed dozens of shows, some remarkable, others forgettable, but each worth my five bucks.

The Faircloths kept their antenna up high for what was current and incoming in underground rock: Nirvana, Sonic Youth, The Replacements, The Meat Puppets, The Feelies, Jane’s Addiction, 10,000 Maniacs, Living Color, The Flaming Lips and equally killer bands (Beggar Weeds!) shook that 250-capacity room with music that prided itself on circuiting along subterranean frequencies.

Before, during and after these shows, relationships formed and ideas were exchanged among kids who were sharing their realizations about music, art and life. I later understood that what I witnessed and experienced was akin to what Joseph Campbell saw as ritual helping community endure — only these ceremonies were acted out with cranked Marshall amps, blacklights, smoke machines and some truly ecstatic crowds.

If nothing else, for ostracized teens, the Faircloths and, by extension, Einstein’s, developed a strong social unit of teenagers who before had been so certain that they were alone in their weirdness. Part of my lifelong nostalgia for the place is a sense of inclusivity, shared alienation expressed with every deliberately torn Black Flag shirt or death-rock pale complexion.

I was never really a true insider of the scene. Terrified of both girls and dancing, my position in the social construct was of a mute wallflower. And that was all right, too. There were no bullies, since we all had, in one way or another, already gotten our asses kicked.

Amazingly, one day, the Faircloth sisters offered me an actual job at the club. Helping touring bands like Dinosaur Jr. and fIREHOSE unload their tattered amps from putrid-smelling vans surely pushed me toward spending the bulk of my young-adult years doing the very same thing. From the early ’90s to early 2000s, whenever I told musicians that I was from Jacksonville, they invariably knew it as “the place where Einstein’s used to be.”

Einstein’s was an early victim of the gentrification of what became known as “downtown” Jacksonville Beach. In 1997, the Faircloths closed the club.

Last year, there was an Einstein’s anniversary party held at Eclipse in Avondale. This Labor Day weekend, a two-to-three-day 30th year anniversary festival, Thirty A Go-Go, is scheduled to take place. All proceeds will benefit local charities like Girls Rock Camp Jacksonville.

I most likely won’t be there. Like that mute wallflower that circled around Einstein’s dance floor, my level of reclusiveness continues to make Thomas Pynchon look like Kim Kardashian. And just as they did nearly 30 years ago, I’m sure the Faircloth sisters will understand.

The club’s legacy still pops up in fitting ways. Kim Gordon’s recent memoir, Girl in a Band, features a photo of Sonic Youth taken in the mid-’80s, goofing off in front of the club. And that same spot is where countless other photos were taken. Other misfits struck a snarling pose for their friends, with a different camera but the same captured moment: a group of oddballs laughing under the streetlight, exhausted from another night of music, friendship and community.

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