An Interview With The Man Who Saved Wien Hall From Silence
More or less. Senior Staff Writer Sophie Tobin recounts an extremely serendipitous encounter she had a few weeks ago. Anyone who knows me knows that I love swing dancing. In fact, I’m the Treasurer of the CU Swing Dancing Club and attend a weekly dance event known as the “Frim Fram Jam” by Penn Station. A couple months ago, I danced with a guy named Andrew. It turns out he graduated from Columbia in the 90s and is now a musician (WHO PERFORMS AT POSTCRYPT THIS FRIDAY! Details below!) and fellow swing dancing aficionado. We became dance buddies, bumping into each other at Fram every now and again. One day, I invited him to CU Swing’s upcoming dance, which was to be held in Wien. He couldn’t believe it. He had LIVED in Wien. Back in his day, the Wien noise policy stated that no instruments could be played aloud at any time (the rules were written before people had radios in their rooms, so recorded music was permitted, but live instruments weren’t). As a young musician, he was infuriated by this, and ended up getting it overturned. Here’s the kicker: without Andrew, our dance would never have happened, as we had a live band! And this is just a random guy I met dancing near Penn Station! Needless to say, he attended the dance in Wien, and I got to hear all about his jaunt down Memory Lane. Thus, dear Bwog reader (Bweader?), I give you: An Interview With The Man Who Saved Wien Hall From Silence.
1. When did you graduate? What did you study?
I graduated when George H.W. Bush was president and Nirvana’s Nevermind was on the charts at number 1 — as grunge was poised to take over from big hair rock. When baby boomer Bill Clinton was poised to take over from Bush 1. When pizza at Koronet was $1.25 and a subway token (yes, token) was $1.25. When cell phones were 7 years away from most people and the word “internet” not invented. On campus we had the “Rolm Phone.” When The Spectator (where I was Photograpy Editor) still laid out the paper on a board with hot wax. No joke. And we shot everything on black & white film and processed it ourselves. In some ways 1992 was might as well have been the 1970s in New York City. The city was on the cusp of change that would come with the boom time of the 90s. The old neighborhood restaurants were not yet gentrified out (Moon Palace, the original West End, La Rhonda, The Marlin, and much more). NYC was exciting and arty and gritty, and at times, frightening. It was much better. And cheaper. I studied history but spent a good deal of my time making music.
2. What was Columbia like back in the day?
Well, of course my experience of Columbia was limited, there was a hell of a lot more going on than I was part of or aware of. That being said, Morningside Heights in the late 80s was a very different place than it is today and it didn’t appeal to the people across the country in the same way. I’m guessing the student body was different as a result. You had to be jazzed by the idea of it all — you had to really want or need the escape to the excitement NYC could offer. If you just wanted a top school and your family was skittish about NYC (because of current news reports about how dangerous a place it was — such as the crack epidemic, the banner tabloids about the Central Park Jogger and Bernie Goetz ordeals) you probably would have gone with something provincial. I loved the students who had chosen to come to Columbia — they were from all over the country and world and were from all backgrounds. Sure there were lots of clicks but there was a lot of people getting to mix it up and get to know each other for the first time. Campus life was very active and there seemed like a lot of activism too. There were protests to divest from South Africa. To keep need-blind financial aid for students. The “Take Back the Night Marches” were a big deal. There was some distress on campus between the BSO and JSU when Leonard Jeffries spoke, and I recall at one point the KCCC put up posters advising that “The Rapture” was coming. (It didn’t.) There was the trippy campus music party “Realityfest” and, even better, it’s existential angst-ridden party answer “Despairfest.” And there was so much more going on than I was privy to.
3. Can you tell me about your experience living in Wien?
The strangest/neatest thing was to have a sink in my room. Once the excitement wore off I spent time strumming my acoustic guitar, which unexpectedly led to trouble. Apparently the University-wide dormitory noise policy was from the early 1900s, before the advent of the Radio Age and the Victrola, let alone stereos or boom boxes. The policy outlawed playing any kind of instrument at any hour, but said nothing about playing a stereo at any volume at any hour. One quiet Saturday evening at 7pm, when most people were out, I was home alone, quietly strumming my acoustic guitar while my neighbor was playing Guns ’n’ Roses on his stereo. The Head Resident (who was a graduate student in the Social Work school) passed by and heard me through the door — she would have had to put her ear to my door. She wrote me up for violating the policy, which summarily gave me 30 days before I was to be kicked out of CU housing! Well, that didn’t seem right. I wrote an Op Ed in The Spectator and plead my case at the next UDC meeting. The UDC voted that night to adapt the Noise Policy in my favor. I taped the decision on my door (along with a sign “Fight the Power”) and strummed my heart out. The Head Resident had to eat humble pie. I guess some of you musicians at Columbia can thank me?
4. What are you up to these days?
I continued with music and have been a performing singer-songwriter) for decades. I perform regularly in NYC and tour around the country and Europe. I released a new album this summer. I’m also playing a lot of cowboy music too, all over the country, as Hopalong Andrew. My indie-Appalachian-glam-rock band The Honey Brothers with fellow Columbians Ari Gold (CC ’92) and Daniel Posner (CC ’93) enjoyed some silly sunshine in the 00s.
And now for some sweet promo:
Andrew returns to the Columbia Postcrypt on Friday, December 6 at 8:30pm.
Listen on Spotify or anywhere: Andrew Vladeck, Hopalong Andrew, The Honey Brothers.
Photo of the man, the myth, the legend performing at Postcrypt in 1989, via Andrew Vladeck.