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But self-destructive? Not even. The intoxicant-free Lemp's unofficial mantra of "no drugs, no booze, no jerks" reveals shades of the "straight edge" philosophy that grew out of the 1980s Washington, D.C., punk scene. At the Lemp, getting fucked up is considered, well, fucked up.
But should rock & roll be so clear-headed? And, considering that Sarich and his arts center are said to be largely responsible for lifting an entire south-city neighborhood out of a crack-addled funk, should rock & roll be what the Lemp is all about? Some argue that the Lemp's success as a live-music venue has come at the expense of a more holistic original vision, one that once promised a broader array of events that gave equal billing to visual art, education and grassroots activism.
Sarich himself concedes that this may be true. What to do? What to do?
Benton Park could easily be mistaken for a cemetery on any given Sunday night. But the potential's there.
Saunter past Frazer's Brown Bag, one of the finest restaurants in town. Except on Sunday, when it's closed. Ahead looms the Venice Café, proud purveyor of Red Stripe sud grenades and one of the best patios in North America. Except on Sunday, when it's closed. On this night, a bum in a box is having a better time than the people who aren't at Frazer's and the Venice.
But down the road at the corner of Lemp Avenue and Utah Street, Mark Sarich's Lemp is alive. And burly doorman Adam "The Devastator" Greer has an issue with Beatle Bob.
Surely, when the mop-top fanatic descends upon your club on a Sunday night, it's either a signal that you've arrived or that the apocalypse is nigh.
To the husky, towheaded Greer, a towering touring band manager and LNAC board member, it's the latter.
"Anyone who's a scenester who's too good to pay a door charge, I just hate 'em," the eighteen-year-old Greer opines as a more polite patron presses a crinkled fiver into his palm.
Bob is fortunate that Salt the Earth, from Lawrence, Kansas, is among the Lemp's more radio-friendly quartets. His hallmark fist-jab dance moves seem right at home.
The next band, So Many Dynamos, doesn't lend itself to such syncopated propulsion.
There's something to be said for melting down brilliantly. To this end, So Many Dynamos, a battalion of bangers from the metro east, make elbows to a keyboard at the end of a tune seem as sweet as Chopin.
Sarich grew up in Madison, Illinois, where, he says, "kids are kind of public property." That same ethic holds true on the youthful board of the LNAC, on which he serves as founder, chairman and frequent referee. That last role is key, particularly when the third-oldest member of your board is 23 and hell-bent on discussing Frito-Lay flavors instead of starting the monthly meeting, held at the long table that runs parallel to the center's east wall, on time.
"Guacamole chips are not part of the minutes," Sarich reminds the board, at which point the group launches into a full-throated discussion of what sort of lights -- strobe or string -- will best illuminate the back patio this spring. Next on the agenda is the question of whether to give a neighborhood act, Satan's God, one more shot at not offending the Lemp crowd.
Everyone at the table hates Satan's God, perhaps because its frontman professes to despise "niggers and children" and once pulled a very real-looking toy gun on a female audience member mid-act (at another venue) -- all in the name of art. Still, it is moved and seconded that Satan's God will live to see another night at Lemp, on the strict condition that they check the six-shooter and racial epithets at the door.
Neighbors are a subject near and dear to Sarich's heart, so precious that later in the evening he'll leave the Dynamos' show to attend a nearby barbecue.
"Steak and port sounds really good to me right now," he says, letting on that regardless of his club's reputation, he doesn't personally walk the so-called straight edge, a sober, veggies-first lifestyle spawned by Minor Threat (and later Fugazi) lead guitarist Ian MacKaye in the early 1980s.
"I'm not nuts about getting drunk," says Sarich, a lifelong bachelor. "But I have my closetful of Eastern European liquors that I have after dinner."
Liquor isn't the only import Sarich admires. He cites as his mentor the late University of Illinois music-composition professor and computer-music pioneer Herbert Brün, a German immigrant who spoke with a thick, commanding accent and who, Sarich says, "instilled the link between music and social issues." According to Sarich, before his death three years ago Brün was apt to emit such thought-provoking declarations as:
"If you aren't careful about how you structure your music, all you will be doing is regurgitating what the system has taught you, and therefore you will be counter-revolutionary."
"If you compose something you like, it's because you've heard it before. And, therefore, you should throw it out."
"I want everybody to move forward and center, so you will no longer suffer the fate that music is too loud."