I never danced but I could hold up a wall like nobody’s business. Gangly, pale, and anxious, decked out in black and chain-smoking Marlboro Lights. I expressed my individuality by dressing like other alienated kids who showed me how. On a weekend night, the dancefloor of Einstein A Go-Go, the space that consumed much of the venue’s square-footage, was packed with teenaged kids dancing, tearing into the tiled floor, as everything from Depeche Mode and the Hoodoo Gurus to Sonic Youth and Pylon blasted from the PA mains. Tribal validation and approval seeking were as rampant as goth girls draped in black-and-oxblood scarves twirling and giddy dudes, bobbing their heads.
I was hardly immune. I was bored with being the gang coward, a 14-year-old denim delinquent pretty sure that one more huff of Freon in a black-lit Mayport Road trailer park was going to prove Nancy Reagan correct.
My first Einstein’s show was a Fetchin Bones gig in 1986, a year after the club opened. I was in flux: still a long-haired metal-hippie sporting a pair of “Regency-Mall-death-rocker” black-and-silver Wild Pair boots that would’ve made Bauhaus wince. After dyeing my hair black out of some kind of desperate Hail-Mary towards validation and unity, I eventually hacked away my hippie roots altogether. But I didn’t dance. God, no. At the time, I thought I was practicing William Burroughs’ social magick of El Hombre Invisible, being the anonymous observer. But I was really just another wallflower, leaning against one of the club’s black-painted walls, vibrating from hormones, self-absorption, and teenage kicks, terrified of girls and playing hard-to-get for no one.
Located at the corner of First Street and Third Avenue N., Einstein’s roots were initially planted at the Music Shop, a stone’s throw away down First Street. Owned and operated by the Faircloth family—Bill and Connie Faircloth and daughters Tammie and Terri—the Music Shop was one of the most subversive places in 1980s Jacksonville. Before he had his influential radio show Forbidden Planet, future Jax DJ magus Robert Goodman was a longtime employee.
In many ways, Einstein’s was an extension and actualization of the Faircloth family. Bill and Connie brought a homespun and truly “mom-and-pop” welcome; Tammie and Terri cranked up the invite with the Butthole Surfers. There had been other punk-minded clubs in the city. The beaches Blighted Area had hosted bands like Black Flag and the Minutemen. On the Westside, the 730 Club brokered in hardcore punk; if you could make nice with skinheads’ fists. The Faircloths prospered by bypassing the pitfalls of those venues: no booze was sold on premises, any teeny lush trying to sneak in alcohol was ceremoniously ejected, and any attempts at slam dancing were personally quelled by the Faircloth sisters, eager to bounce any unruly (read: violent) HC punk interlopers. While Einstein’s was all-ages, every permutation of age, gender, race, and alt-fashion plumage was welcome. The most popular “open intoxicants” were nicotine and caffeine. Cigarettes were a dollar a pack in the mid-to-late 80s, and a clubgoer could buy endless cans of cheap Jolt cola from the bar, a soft drink that was a borderline central-nervous-system psychedelic when chugged in mass consumption.
The club was a sanctuary for many high school and college students, with archetypes aplenty. Kids decked out in a weird burlap-and-paisley get-up, gone “full Amish” in devotion to R.E.M.; goth kids out for blood but settling for bumming clove cigarettes; pre-grunge kids showing up in Saabs and dressing like lumberjacks in flannels and tee shirts. But actual grownups also came to shows, these exotic beings who showed up for the music and invariably receded back from the fray, letting the kids bounce off the walls, sans unwanted supervision.
But the club’s context within the ‘80s underground music scene is a sociology study best drowned out by the music cranked within the 250-person-capacity room. Marquee names like The Replacements, Sonic Youth, Fishbone, Jane’s Addiction, Living Colour, Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Flaming Lips, fIREHOSE, X, 10,000 Maniacs, The Feelies, and Camper Van Beethoven were underscored by dozens of other lesser-“known” but similarly potent bands. Regional groups from Georgia and North Carolina, like Let’s Active, Love Tractor, and Kilkenny Cats, were greeted like returning gods at Einstein’s. The Faircloths provided locals a chance to witness some serious 80s rock contenders on the club’s cramped stage. The intimacy of the place offered approachability to the actual artists. The bands would routinely walk through the packed crowd to step one foot up on the stage. This tacit intimacy allowed you, as an audience member, to directly ask the Meat Puppets to sign the band’s album; and then have the Meat Puppets ask you (urgently) if you had any weed before handing you back your pen.
By the late ‘80s, Einstein’s became a crucial beacon and attractor for bands touring the ‘80s Southeast (Thurston Moore was but one satisfied guest rocker; immortalizing the club in a Forced Exposure tour diary). The actual location of the club in turn fed other Florida cities like Orlando and Miami. After all, if a band could make $300 in Jacksonville Beach, they could afford to head deeper into the Sunshine State. The Faircloths fed, paid, and at times even housed, incoming artists. But of equal, even greater importance, was the spotlight they aimed at local artists.
Beggar Weeds and Rein Sanction were consistent draws as openers and headliners and represented the proverbial yin and yang of local underground rock: the ‘Weeds with their driving twang-and-jangle that made the dancefloor downright claustrophobic; Rein Sanction splitting eardrums, teenagers with dimed Marshall stacks, throwing out a deafening drone-roar. I played a gig at Einstein’s one time: in 1990, after rehearsing diligently for six months with John Ackerman (Rein Sanction) and Laurie Wall (Sleestack), as Kilgore Trout we shared a bill with the two-man Brian Hicks and Chris Strawn version of Gizzard. I remember nervously thwacking away at my bass and staring at the floor for our 20-minute set.
Two hours later, during our “conquering party,” Laurie announced she was quitting the band to sign on with a trio soon to be known as Crowsdell. Considering our band’s smoked-weed-to-actual-song ratio, I can’t say that I blamed her.
I remain baffled as to why Tammie and Terri offered me a job at the club. This was a coveted position amongst Jacksonville youth. Maybe they took pity on me, since I would spend my days kind of straggling around at the Theory Shop, the record store they eventually opened in the back of the venue. At that point, my résumé amounted to dishwasher, busboy, and assistant dishwasher. Working at Einstein’s was a mixed blessing. While I had the chance to help underground rock heroes load and unload their gear, hang out with them, and keep my ear open for “rock” talk (“Art and science are dead,” was but one bit of unsolicited wisdom; this aphorism burped out by post-gig, zonked Kim Thayil of Soundgarden) I became envious of the kids rocking out front and center while I emptied ashtrays and frantically worked the bar. The Faircloths paid me really well, but I think my club career fizzled out due to a desire to have my head re-planted in front of a bass amp.
Not long before the club finally shut its doors in 1997, Tammie had told me that the family had been “coded out” by the City of Jacksonville Beach: exiled by a series of frivolous (and surely ersatz) building violations. Considering what’s become of Jax Beach, this is hardly a surprise. Eventually the “freak scene” permeated outward from the beach, crossing the bridge and influencing subsequent venues like the Milk Bar and Moto Lounge, a continuing DIY ethos evident in a stronghold of savvy clubs like Jack Rabbits and Rain Dogs.
Nostalgia is punitive. It’s a state of mind where homesickness for youth is superior to a contentment to be where you are, even if you’re gradually falling apart from old age; or at least falling away. Years back I wrote a similar tribute to Einstein’s, where I claimed that the club and scene was free of bullies and cliques. A reader, with a clearer and more discerning mind than I, rightfully shot me down. I was writing in a state of blinding sentimentality. Of course there were cliques and self-appointed habitués. Every sanctuary has a breach. Locals remain protective of the legacy and memory of Einstein’s. Sometimes to the point of a kind of pedigree myth.
When Nirvana played the club on May 5, 1990, they performed a pre-Nevermind set to a less-than-packed house. In the years since, I’ve met hundreds and hundreds of people who have claimed to have been at that show. I was at the Nirvana show and could rattle off a dozen or so better shows I saw at the club, including Die Monster Die, a one-off Athens death-rock-band driven by kettle drums, two fuzz basses, and guttural wailing. You had to be there.
The night after the Nirvana gig, UK psych-troubadour Robyn Hitchcock performed at Einstein’s. Pound for pound, Hitchcock arguably trounces Cobain as a singular songwriter; but no one is frothing at the mouth to claim a stake in that gig, as they lift up their shirt to reveal their Robyn Hitchcock back tattoo.
I’m still a wallflower. I leave the show early after showing up late, usually wilting and sweaty by the fourth song. I beg my musician friends to not invite me to their gigs, let alone baby showers. Some middle-aged peers still dance; I make sure to hold claim to our coveted table or booth seats. Bad knees. Some of the Einstein alumni have long since left Northeast Florida; others have stayed on, happily ensconced in the very suburbs we all railed against. Bill and Connie Faircloth, who will undoubtedly go down in history as two of the coolest rock parents known to mankind, both passed away years ago. I haven’t seen Terri for years; she might’ve had her fill of indie rock scenes. Considering the work she put in co-creating the ‘80s rock community, I can’t say I blame her. Whenever I see Tammie in Riverside, she seems both proud and bemused by the influence her family and club had on people. I’ve now known Tammie for forty years. Just typing that makes my knuckles crack with an arthritic gasp.
It’s not my job to be the historian and archivist of Einstein A-Go-Go. Have at it, dear reader. At one point I thought about “writing a book” about the club, but who wants to read 400 pages about a kid leaning against a wall?
Someone should write that book.
I’ll get you started. Here’s the title, gleaned from a full adolescence spent in a loud club and with the Faircloth family, the best open secret of the ‘80s, a time both enlightening and corrupting:
Be Yourself; Everyone Else is Taken.
This feature originally appeared under the headline “Don’t Let Our Youth Go to Waste: A Void staffer grows up and old with legendary all-ages Jax Beach club Einstein A-Go-Go” in Void Magazine’s July 2020 issue.