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Punks Odd Couple 

How Dick Collier and George Lazaneo brought about the second coming of the Trocadero Transfer

Wednesday, Oct 4 1995
The Trocadero Transfer has gone from riches to rags.
Midway through its 18 years, the once-thriving gay nightclub in San Francisco's SOMA district was reduced to tatters, first by the specter of AIDS and then by a grossly mismanaged transition to live music. Today, the Troc is once again doing good business. Its clientele, however, is still in rags.

This ain't no disco, even though it used to be a salmon-colored one. The repainted silver-and-red facade on Fourth Street now houses a punk club, frequented (and staffed) by a jackbooted, T-shirted alternative army, scarified kids not yet or just barely 21. Never mind the bar tabs and illicit drugs that used to fuel the club's dance-happy patrons -- these street urchins often lack enough cash for a soda.

Nowhere are these wholesale changes more evident than in the club's front office, where longtime owner Dick Collier, a 52-year-old gay man, is situated behind his tidy desk each morning by 9 a.m. Collier keeps his hair cropped closely, like an airline pilot's; today he's wearing a short-sleeve shirt with a swirling blue pattern, a party shirt that's been dry-cleaned.

The Troc's general manager, on the other hand, doesn't come in until after noon. Old-school survivor George Lazaneo, 30, looks like the kind of guy who, at the height of punk-disco antagonism, might've busted his boss' 12-inch Gloria Gaynor remixes over his head. Lazaneo's scalp is devoid of hair save for a dirty blond racing stripe. In the office, he spreads his hefty frame across the couch, elevating his left leg, which sustained some nasty abrasions one recent night when he slipped into a sewer grate.

One of the primary reasons behind the Troc's comeback is Lazaneo's shrewd assessment of the punk community's second wave. By the end of 1995, Lazaneo will have booked twice as many live shows at the Troc as last year. Understanding that you can't assign a dollar figure to punk integrity, he fosters invaluable good will each time he throws open his doors for free shows by such hardcore stalwarts as Fear, Agent Orange, and Youth Brigade. He's booked 13 free shows in the last year.

His boss, though, isn't convinced. Collier says he's never been one to give things away for free.

"I'm a firm believer that a dollar will keep problems out of a club," he says.

At the Hotel Utah next door, Lazaneo speaks freely about their disagreements. "There's a practical commercial sense for why I'm doing it," he argues. "I like seeing a thousand kids inside the Trocadero Transfer. It feels good."

"These are kids that're going to be supporting the space for the next three to five years," he continues. He wants the Troc to be a place where some of those kids experience "life-defining" shows, just as he did when he first embraced punk.

"I'll see kids at some of these shows, I can tell they're thinking, 'This is the best day of my life,' " he says. "That's the power of music."

Despite reservations about his club's punk makeover, Collier is actually quite pleased with the job his young GM has done. Three years ago, Collier was home in Baltimore, operating the Troc long-distance, leaving daily management and booking chores to the Bridge Management Co. Lazaneo, meanwhile, had been hired as an $8-an-hour security guard, "doing the jobs nobody else wanted -- plunging toilets, hanging fliers."

When the Bridge Co. declared the faltering club a bust and locked up its doors, Lazaneo immediately called Collier. The owner flew to San Francisco the following day, and the odd couple set about raising the sunken Troc.

At first, at Collier's suggestion, the club did away with live performances. But after Lazaneo negotiated a temporary arrangement with Bill Graham Presents, in which the Troc was used as a test market for the reopening of the Fillmore, Collier reinstated live shows. When BGP pulled out, the owner promoted his eager assistant to the dual role of GM and talent buyer.

"I didn't have carte blanche, but he started letting me 'do my thing,' " says Lazaneo. " 'Doing my thing' entails the things he hates [to do himself] -- spending money for advertising and getting bodies in the door."

Earlier this year, the Troc hosted a punk showcase featuring the veteran band Fear. When an unruly fan spat on singer Lee Ving 15 minutes into the show, Fear stormed offstage, triggering a miniriot. Lazaneo says he pleaded with Ving to resume the show "as pieces of bottles and porcelain toilets rained onto the stage and the dressing room wall." Fourteen hours later, they were on the phone rescheduling the show, using a voucher system to accommodate fans without ticket stubs. The makeup date was such a resounding success that Lazaneo decided to continue doing free shows.

"I felt bad about producing the first Fear show," he says. "Even though my ticket prices are typically $8 to $10, whenever you've got an older punk band and you're charging $12 to $15, I feel like a museum curator, where you're charging the kids to check out the reptiles."

The free shows have become Lazaneo's contribution to the rejuvenated punk scene. "I just want to try and pass down some of [punk's] collective wisdom," he says. "It's not my scene anymore. It definitely belongs to the kids."

Despite his all-ages policy for the free shows, Lazaneo says the Troc can usually collect enough at the bar to cover the $3,000 nut in nightly production costs (including staff, equipment, and advertising). He says he's never lost more than $750 to $1,000 on a free show -- though he admits any loss at all is bad news to Collier.

"He's a very practical businessman," Lazaneo says. To Collier, "If it's not a source of revenue, it's a source of liability."

Although band guarantees are a substantial part of Lazaneo's layout, most groups are willing to take a cut in pay in exchange for the street cred of the free shows. Some have been paid as much as a $1,000, but those instances are rare; one recent week's draws, Seaweed and 7 Seconds, each got about half that.

"Any band that really cares about their fans," Lazaneo suggests, "will take a cut in guarantee [to play to a full house]. It's one of the best means of promoting a band -- the kids know they're not getting ripped off."

Kevin Seconds, of the band 7 Seconds, agrees: "We don't get the opportunity to play free that often. If it's a free, all-ages show, it's a way to say thanks to your fans."

The week before Seaweed and 7 Seconds played, Collier again tried to get Lazaneo to charge something -- anything -- for these two shows. If not a $1 cover, the mild-mannered owner asked, why not "make it a free concert but have a one- or two-drink minimum, like most other clubs in the U.S. and Europe?"

"Once you put an age or monetary restriction on a show," Lazaneo countered, "it deballs the whole process. You might as well charge five bucks." To punk kids, a dollar can mean a lot: "A buck is still distribution of the dollar," he says. "The kids want to know: Who's getting my dollar? Is the band getting my dollar? The club? The promoter?" He points out that any cover charge whatsoever would result in hand-wringing over head counts.

"As it stands now, the goals are just to advertise, produce, and promote a really good show."

And the shows have been a success. Several have seen the club fill to capacity (1,000-plus). Lazaneo says that on the August night the venerable Ramones were in town, the Youth Brigade still filled the Troc.

"That was one of the more satisfying nights. If you like this type of music, you had the option of going to the Warfield, spending $16, and getting treated like dogshit, or getting a voucher at a record store and seeing four great bands for free."

Collier, who just signed his third 10-year lease on the Trocadero's building, says an effort earlier this year to revive a gay-oriented night on Saturdays at the Troc fell flat.

"I would certainly love to see the Troc, at least on Saturday night, be more like what it used to be," he admits. "I used to sometimes spend $30,000 on decorations. Of course, the tickets were $25 or $30."

Lazaneo says his boss is "kind of stuck in the way things were. But I'll always respect and admire the guy, because when he first reopened the space in June '93 we had nothing. Our reputation was shot.

"He's making money off the Troc at this point. We're not showing a dollar profit, because we were so mired in debt. But you can tell by our level of advertising, and the acts we've gotten, that we're back competing."

Lazaneo says that despite the obvious incongruities of their personalities ("Dick's new thing is country music"), his relationship with Collier is much more chummy than might be expected.

"I know he's got love, love, love, faith, and trust in me," Lazaneo says, "because I have single-handedly rebuilt his empire.

"The thing is, my customers are not as attractive as his used to be. They've got a whole different range of social skills than what he's accustomed to. But," he adds, "they are the new Trocadero customers.

About The Author

James Sullivan


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