Someone tagged the plywood where the mirror used to hang in the men's room at Long Wong's:
"Where do we go now? Tempe dies April 3, 2004."
Last Saturday was, in fact, the Tempe desert-rock institution's last day open.
But the tagger had it all wrong. Tempe died a long time ago.
Long Wong's was merely the last glowing ember of a scene that reached its apex in the early '90s, when the bands performing at the dive on Mill Avenue could realistically hope to make it big. Long Wong's final blowout show was like a time machine rewound and fast-forwarded, to play itself to the finish in just one day: sets by the Pistoleros, Dead Hot Workshop, Flathead, the Piersons -- all of those bands were part of a scene that was already fading when I moved to Tempe a little more than eight years ago. It was evident just by looking at who showed up to pay last respects -- the median age was mid-30s, if not older.
I can think of plenty of landmark instances when Tempe heard the death rattle -- Java Road's closure, the razing of 6 East, the disappearance of the greenbelt where P.F. Chang's now resides, the relocation of Changing Hands Bookstore to a suburban strip mall, the enactment of Tempe's smoking ban.
Long Wong's closing wasn't the death of Tempe, it was just the corpse emptying its bowels.
"Take a walk down Mill Avenue with me," Steppchild front man Adam Jacobson implored the crowd midway through its hard-rawk set at Wong's on Saturday. "First we'll have some high-priced appetizers and margaritas at Chili's. Then we'll go shopping for books and records at Borders, my favorite place to buy everything." Jacobson continued his imaginary parade down to My Big Fat Greek Restaurant and ended up at Starbucks for coffee before launching into a song called "Kill the Rich."
I'll miss Long Wong's, but not for the music. I'll miss sitting on the patio on a winter Sunday afternoon, drinking $6 pitchers of Budweiser and eating the best wings in town while watching the hot sorority girls cruise by on Mill.
The closure of Long Wong's is sad, but it's not a harbinger of doom for local music, like the disappearance of Nita's Hideaway was. Long Wong's employed the atavistic residency system to book its bands, where the same band plays the same night of the week every week. That sort of operation violates the law of supply and demand -- people just don't want to see the same band every week, and bands are certain to draw a bigger crowd and become a bigger commodity if they play once a month than if they play weekly. It also prevents the exposure of exciting new acts looking for gigs in Tempe.
I spent several hours at Saturday's show, under a pleasantly cloudy sky in the parking lot of Long Wong's. The small lot was packed with revelers and provided a solid retrospect of the bands that once defined the "Tempe sound," but the fenced-off, crowded scene prevented my last chance to chill serenely on the patio, checking out girls.
As my friends and I walked away, ducking between two TV news vans with broadcast antennas raised, one of my homeboys screamed "Fuck Long Wong's," and I threw my middle fingers in the air.
I'll really miss that patio.
The 'Nix's own homegrown superheroine, Kimber Lanning, is at it again. The diminutive owner of Tempe's superlative Stinkweeds record store and Modified Arts in Phoenix, as well as the driving force behind the local business coalition Arizona Chain Reaction, is expanding her empire. Lanning just purchased a building on Central and Camelback that will eventually be home to a second Stinkweeds location.
Between her business concerns and the multiple downtown development committees she sits on, you might think that Lanning already has her hands full, but if you do, you just don't know Kimber.
"I'm like the Energizer bunny," she says, laughing.
The second Stinkweeds store won't open its doors until at least mid-September; in the meantime, Lanning will be making cosmetic adjustments to the graffiti-covered building in midtown Phoenix, installing a new air-conditioning unit, and resurfacing the parking lot. In her typical style, Lanning is doing much of the work herself, the sweat and strain a welcome relief from committee meetings.
Stinkweeds Junior sits caddy-corner from Tracks in Wax, the classic and collectible vinyl retailer, which should be a complement to Lanning's selection of indies and imports rather than competition. It'll be an independent infusion that Phoenix can definitely use, as Zia Record Exchange, which has a location at Seventh Avenue and Indian School, moves closer to being a Top 40 retailer in the Best Buy vein.
"It is going to have more of an urban feel" than the Tempe store, Lanning says. "It's gonna be about half the size of this with a whole bunch of stuff crammed in it." The new Stinkweeds will be managed by longtime Tempe employee Lindsay Cates.
"It just seems like the thing to do, the right thing to be doing," Lanning says of her motivation. "The building just screams my name, it's got green 1950s tile all over the front of it. It just seemed like a no-brainer."
At a time when many small businesses are still suffering through the Bush economy, Lanning's companies, as well as her community projects, are thriving. "I'm seriously kicking butt over here; we're doing great," she says. Modified Arts is attracting serious art collectors who are regularly making purchases, Stinkweeds Senior is thriving, and Lanning says she's "cautiously optimistic" about the pro-locals/pro-small-business agenda she's pushing at downtown Phoenix planning meetings.
"You can definitely say that I'm wearing a lot of hats right now, and that keeps me going," she says. "I'll just be out there picking away at it, and hopefully everything will fall together."
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