“Just a second,” Hoxton co-owner Tom Dalby said on the other end of the phone. Sounds muffled, then some scratching and hissing, and a deep voice snarled over the line, “You’re a wanker. Andy just called you a wanker,” said Andy Rourke before promptly hanging up.
That was my first introduction to the legendary former bass player of The Smiths, a 1980s Manchester band that produced more mind-blowing music in its short five-year span than most bands produce in a lifetime. It was a fitting – and highly complimentary – first impression for someone I’d admired since before I could grow facial hair.
A couple hours later came my next interaction with Rourke, this time in person. Dressed in a weathered Union Jack (the same thing I had spray-painted on my bedroom wall when I was 14) covered by a light sport coat, Rourke burst into an upstairs room at Hoxton and declared, “You’ve eaten the grapes!”
He was right, I had, but they were only three grapes, there were 20 left, and I couldn’t possibly have expected that he’d notice. But he did.
Rourke may have split with bandmates Morrissey, Johnny Marr and Mike Joyce three decades ago, but he is just as much a rock star today as ever.
He currently hosts the show “Jetlag” on East Village Radio in New York, where he plays an eclectic mix of past and present tunes that have that signature influence of a musical movement born of a crappy industrial British city decades ago – a movement The Smiths helped define. Rourke still plays his bass (and guitar), occasionally teaming up with other notables like Peter Hook, from Joy Division and New Order, and who also will be performing a DJ set at Hoxton in December. Last May, Rourke stepped on stage at the tail end of a Johnny Marr concert in Brooklyn, New York, and the two belted out The Smiths tune “How Soon is Now?”, an anthem for anyone who listened to music around the time that MTV was born.
Rourke also occasionally makes his way to strange, faraway places like Costa Rica, where Hoxton co-owners Dalby and Neil Ryan scored a major coup by coaxing him to their elegant post-punk, post-everything club in eastern San José.
“This is somewhere that I’ve always wanted to visit and I’ve always been curious about,” Rourke said, referring to Costa Rica.
“The option came along and it just made perfect sense,” added Ryan. “For me and Tom growing up with him, it’s like a dream come true to bring someone like this.”
Tico fans seemed to agree, as about 500 of them crowded onto the dance floor to hear Rourke play some of his favorite tunes on a Macbook. By the end of the night, most of them were still there, securing autographs and dancing away to classics by Joy Division, Echo & the Bunnymen, Happy Mondays, and of course, The Smiths. And for those of us lucky enough to experience those days of alternative clubs and live music back in the ’80s and early ’90s, there were some very special moments Saturday night.
Rourke seemed to be enjoying himself, too, throwing his hands in the air at the successful start of a song, gyrating about, ignoring that annoying delay on his laptop. Something tells me this won’t be the last time we’ll be seeing him at Hoxton.
As for a Smiths reunion – you’ll just have to watch the video.
Andy Rourke, Oct. 26 performance at Hoxton, San José, Costa Rica. Video by Adrián Soto, photos by Crush Boone.