Farewell to the Wild Blue

Published in the Fresno Bee on April 2, 1994

For people who occasionally go out to see live music, the closing of the Wild Blue is at most a glitch--a minor inconvenience. There are and will be other clubs. But for those of us who make live music our central focus, the closing of the Blue--a beacon of stability on par with Tommy Lasorda--is beyond the end of an era, it's akin to a death in the family. I consider myself part of the Blue's extended family, a regular even among the regulars, and I suddenly see a huge void in my life: like many other Blue workers and regulars, I might actually have to get one.

And if Jim and Bill Bixler want to get out after all this time, whether due to burn out, mismanagement or competition, who can blame them? After all, for years and years they've been walking tall in a supremely cutthroat business, littering corpses of other nightspots from the Star Palace to Hot Rocks in their swath. Its no wonder they're burnt out: after all, the sites most mentioned to take up the Blue's slack, Club Fred and Cadillac Club, have changed hands so many times it would take five supercomputers to list them all.

This isn't an insult to the current owners of Club Fred and the Cadillac Club--owning a night club isn't exactly the most secure profession: better to start a TV show on the Fox network or become a defensive tackle for the NFL. Which is why the Bixlers' achievement is so impressive--as self professed "soft" businessmen in a hard-core business, they set an example on how a club could work if you just made a cool place to hang out. Which seems so obvious, and indeed, one of the reasons Club Fred is so popular is that they took that concept and ran with it, but you'd be surprised at how many clubs have a repressive, antagonistic atmosphere. The Blue, at least until the re- modeling, seemed like a place to kick your shoes off, have a couple of beers, and watch your friends play some music.

Up to the end, the Blue offered me and my friends (and you and your friends) a place to play. Whatever the tastes of the Bixlers, they gave all types of music a chance at their club. If they opened the club at least partially to give their own bands exposure, they soon learned the importance of showcasing other local acts. Bands like Lets Go Bowling, Supreme Love Gods and the Miss Alans used the Blue to hone their youthful chops en route to national exposure. If a new band could talk their friends and family into showing up, the band got invited back until they either won a regular following of strangers or burned out completely.

It's all part of the uneasy (and sometimes hostile) dynamic existing amongst club owners, bands and fans. They're all co- dependent: bands need places to play, club owners need draw, and fans need live music and cheap drinks. To ride herd on all of these people and still stay in business is tricky at best. There's going to be bruised egos, rash acts, and bad feelings all around. How could it be any different when art and commerce mix? It gets further complicated since it's axiomatic that fans form bands, get a job at the club, or become regulars just to hang around music.

Like me. There probably hasn't been more than a couple of weeks in the last decade that I didn't at least poke my head in, check out some band, maybe buy a couple of drinks. Literally hundreds of times I did this since I turned 21 and not once did I ever think about thanking the Bixlers for their club. I never hardly even talked to them. And why? It was a business, I spent a lot of money there. Besides, it was always going to be there. So, now it must be said--not just for me, but for everybody who ever enjoyed the Blue--thank you Jim, thank you Bill. For my fond memories of your club.

Thanks for my early days: the wood decor and the graffiti- filled bathroom walls, full of hilarious jokes; drawings; disses (Q."What do you call a drummer without a band" A. "Aqua Bob.") and philosophies. Making them graffiti-proof was an apt metaphor for the emergence of the Tower District in the greater Fresno consciousness. The Blue wasn't just going to be ours anymore.

Thanks for not necessarily noticing large groups of mid-80's slackers hanging out in front of your club, sitting on the sidewalk or on Fulton or in the parking lot drinking beer purchased from the 24-hour Mayfair market across Olive. Those of us of age would pay to watch bands, but we'd inevitably end up outside with the underage girls, whom we'd subsequently attempt to sneak in as the club filled up.

Thanks for all of the wonderful, interesting people you've had work for you. Witty bartenders, graceful waitresses, and most of all doormen who let me in for a song and a dance time and time again. I made some really close friends there, especially after hours, where we'd all hang out and drink your stock until almost dawn.

Thanks for the countless out-of-town bands, too many to name-check here, but a special shout out for the first Jonathan Richman show where a packed house, some openly weeping, sang "Affection" with him: a moment of communal intimacy that was an epiphany of the club-going experience.

Thanks for letting local bands play there, even if you hated every note and lick. And not just my bands, all of the bands of every shape and stripe and color and intentions. There was always grumbling about your cut, but at least you didn't succumb to the L.A. pay-to-play mentality.

The Wild Blue was a unique and special place; we shall not see its like again.

--Jim Connelly

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This document last modified 05 July, 1995.
I was listening to Patti Smith -- Radio Ethiopia.