Shake, Rattles and Roll
On a recent Sunday afternoon, Dan Zanes, a former rock ‘n’ roll hellion, tuned his guitar in preparation for a midday gig at the Park, a new bar and restaurant in Chelsea. Back in the 80′s, Mr. Zanes had been the lead singer and guitar player for a loud and mildly successful Boston band called the Del Fuegos, a band which at its height scored a hit single (“Don’t Run Wild”), filmed a commercial for Miller Beer and toured with Tom Petty. In those days, Mr. Zanes, who at 39 maintains a rocker’s voluminous, precisely mussed hair and gangly frame, drank a ton of beer, thrashed around the stage in leather pants, and sang songs like “He Had a Lot to Drink Today,” “I’ll Sleep With You (Cha Cha d’Amour)” and “Lost Weekend.”
Today, however, Mr. Zanes makes a living singing songs like “Polly Wolly Doodle,” “King Kong Kitchie” and “Mole in the Ground.” This new career started a couple years ago, when Mr. Zanes–who disbanded the Del Fuegos in 1989–began recording children’s songs for his daughter, Anna, now 6. He passed a couple of the children’s songs tapes along to his Greenwich Village neighbors, and they went nuts for it.
Last winter, Mr. Zanes assembled a band and released a CD called Rocket Ship Beach , which featured guest performances from Sheryl Crow and Suzanne Vega, among others. Simon Kirke, the drummer from Bad Company, contributed a song called “All My Friends Live in the Woods,” a friendly tribute to a badger and a mole. ( Rocket Ship Beach also included a performance by the Sandy Girls, a group of West Indian baby-sitters Mr. Zanes met in his neighborhood.)
Without a trace of embarrassment Mr Zanes embraced his transition from rock star to children’s musician. Kids were good audience members, he said, and better still, they could care less about subjects like romantic love, which Mr. Zanes said formed the basis for “95 percent” of adult rock songs. “I was tired of writing about that, anyway,” he said. “I’ve been married for 14 years!”
Recently Mr. Zanes and his band began an open-ended brunch engagement Sundays at the Park. While playing children’s songs was easy, finding places to play in New York had been harder than he expected. “I’m trying to book shows in playgrounds right now,” Mr. Zanes said. “I’ve been going to schools and I tell people, ‘I’ve got a great band. Let me know if you’re having any kind of fair at the school.’ Seven times out of 10 people won’t take me up on it. You know, I wasn’t asking for money . I was just trying to book shows.”
The Chelsea shows have found a quick and loyal following, however, primarily among hip downtown parents too cool for Raffi CD’s. For today’s show, a handful of tables had been reserved, with cups of crayons and birthday hats placed on top. Just before showtime, the room was busy with toddlers and handsome-looking parents who had yet to succumb to the grooveless, austere look of parenthood. A young father in a bomber jacket chased his daughter around as she tugged at her corduroys. “You need to go potty?” the father asked. “Well, keep your pants on in the restaurant! It’s one of the big rules.”
At 2 p.m., Mr. Zanes led his band in a marching procession into the room, singing a song called “So Glad I’m Here.” The crowd erupted in a chorus of preschool and adult applause. Charles Goldberg, age 6, began referring to Mr. Zanes as “Mr. Porcupine,” owing to the rocker’s haircut.
Also in the audience was Madelaine West Duchovny, the 1-year-old daughter of actress Téa Leoni and X-Files actor David Duchovny. Madelaine, who had been to the previous week’s show as well, had come with her famous mom, and mom had brought her own friends, too, including Gwyneth Paltrow, Stella McCartney and Liv Tyler. As Mr. Zanes’ band played, Ms. Tyler bounced someone’s child on her lap and Ms. Paltrow clapped along. Hotelier Ian Schrager surfaced, too, bringing along his daughter and settling at a table across the room.
Somewhere along the way, Madelaine West Duchovny got naked but for a diaper. “This has gone too far!” Mr. Zanes called out from the stage upon noticing his emboldened young fan. “This is more like a rock ‘n’ roll show! Nothing but a diaper on!”
After the show ended, and Mss. Paltrow, McCartney and Tyler had left the restaurant, Ms. Leoni stayed behind to chat with her sister-in-law, Laurie Duchovny, a teacher at Saint Ann’s in Brooklyn. Nearby, Mr. Zanes and the band packed their equipment. Ms. Leoni began to get a little breathless about Mr. Zanes. “This is the only children’s CD that we really, really groove to and both love,” she said. “David loves it, too. So we can play this in the car and everybody can rock out, so it’s not just like we’re having to play, you know, David’s Metallica or, you know, my Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Grateful Dead that bores everyone to sleep. We’ll maybe listen to a little Elmo, but Elmo doesn’t even rock as good as this guy.”
Then, a bombshell. Ms. Leoni learned that Mr. Zanes had been the leader of the Del Fuegos. ” Get the fuck out!” she mouthed to her sister-in-law, so that Madelaine West Duchovny could not hear her.
” Dan!” Ms. Leoni cried out. ” Dan! The Del Fuegos? I had no idea!” In an instant, the actress seemed to have been transformed into her former, younger and shriekier self.
“Yeah, my other life,” Mr. Zanes said, sheepishly.
“I’ve got all your albums!” Ms. Leoni said. “I swear to God. I’m a huge Del Fuegos fan. That was my favorite band at Putney. Huge ! In fact, I kept thinking, ‘When am I ever going to, like, see the Del Fuegos?’”
“Where are they now?” Mr. Zanes tossed out.
“Where are they now?” Ms. Leoni asked.
“They’re right here,” Dan Zanes said, and gathered the rest of his stuff: his mandolin, his black top hat, his plastic lobster.
Last November, fashion models dressed like tigers and leopards unveiled a plaque at Spa, the bustling nightclub near Union Square. The plaque read: “THE ONLY WILDLIFE AT SPA IS HUMAN–NO FUR COATS ALLOWED.”
Spa’s fur ban, which received a hearty bark of approval from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, brought the nightclub scads of critter-friendly publi-city. Club boss Steve Lewis directed his doormen to prohibit fur-wearing night crawlers, and Spa’s publicists were quick to call gossip columns like Page Six when boldfaced names were turned away. Word got out that Jennifer Lopez and Sean (Puffy) Combs had been told to leave their furs in their limos before coming inside.
But Spa’s fur ban proved to be a boon for a few smart entrepreneurs at the parking garage next door to the East 13th Street nightclub. This winter, the attendants at the garage charged fur-wearing Spa-goers–panicked that they wouldn’t be allowed inside in their animal skins–$10 each to check their coats among the Toyotas and Benzes for the night. For that small fee, the attendants were happy to take your fur and stash it in a clear plastic bag on a cement floor, under a desk.
Juan Reyes, one of the parking attendants at the Randi Parking Corporation’s garage, said that during the cold season, he and his co-workers checked three or four coats on weeknights, and up to seven on weekends. That translated into an under-the-table gross of some $5,000.
Mr. Reyes, who didn’t speak English terribly well, said the garage started the impromptu coat check because Spa owner Steve Lewis “told me to.” Mr. Lewis confirmed the arrangement to The Observer. “We turn people away, they grab them and chuck their furs.” (Calls to the parking garage’s boss, Marco Orcte, went unreturned.)
For some fur-wearers, this out-of-house coat check was a night-saver. Yoon Lee, a 26-year-old architect, said she often checked her white fox coat with the East 13th Street parking attendants. Though she was wary at first about leaving an expensive coat in a parking garage, Ms. Lee had no troubles, she said.
Even V.I.P.’s wound up utilizing the parking-garage coat check. It happened to Jen Blumin, a 24-year-old blonde, when she arrived at Spa on a cold March night with club promoter Noah Tepperberg. As she walked inside, doormen noticed Ms. Blumin’s checkered rabbit-fur coat, and they gently took it from her and spirited it outside to the garage. When Ms. Blumin decided to leave, a doorman was dispatched to the garage; he then returned the coat to Ms. Blumin’s shoulders.
The treatment impressed Ms. Blumin. “You should always wear a fur coat to Spa,” she declared.