Kenny Gorka, one of the last remaining partners of the New York nightclub The Bitter End, just died.
I wanted to write something to mark his passing. Although he will be known for running the Greenwich Village landmark that developed and launched such artists as Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, and James Taylor, amongst countless others, the part of this man's legacy that needs to be pointed out is his dedication to helping unknown artists. After all, no matter how big you are, we all start somewhere. And Kenny's dedication to helping talent shine, no matter your status, was a constant source of hope and validation for thousands of New York performers over several decades.
Sure, a lot of big-name talent who came up through the ranks and who won a few Grammys owe a lot of their success to Kenny and his nightclub. But, it's the ones -- like myself -- who barely achieved our "15 minutes," who could always count on the fact that Kenny would treat us the same way he would treat Daryl Hall or Billy Joel. There was nothing "special" or "revered" about you when you hung out with Kenny, no matter who you were. Because, to him, we were all special. We were all artists.
For example: Back in the day, when my band, The Rosenbergs, were trying to make a name for ourselves on the New York music scene -- a scene that, as a rule, routinely saw artists subjected to a myriad of humiliating circumstances on a daily basis -- Kenny Gorka stood out as one of the good guys.
No matter what was, or wasn't, happening for us, I could always walk into The Bitter End, find Kenny at the bar, and, within a minute, I would have a date. It didn't matter that we had no draw, no radio play, no label, etc. Like so many others, we had nothing except our supposed talent. Yet, each and every time I went to see him, I would walk out of that bar knowing my band would have a place to play and we'd be able to do what we needed to do, usually within a matter of weeks as opposed to months.
This particular relationship was one I relied on for over 15 years. And it never wavered. Whether I was in The Rosenbergs, trying out new material, or playing solo acoustic, Kenny Gorka was the one guy I could count on for a guaranteed showcase. And the best part, I don't think he ever knew my name.
In an era where artists are spit out like something from a Wonka factory, and the New York music scene has more in common with an ad for American Apparel than it does a place to hone and develop your craft, it makes it all the more rare to know a guy like Kenny was there, standing guard in the soul-draining pit that is the over-hyped, over-commercialized New York music scene, watching over all of us and making sure, no matter how bad things were, when we played his place, we were treated like artists.