Noise vs. Cancer


Steve Trimboli, the 54-year-old owner of Goodbye Blue Monday, a bar/coffeehouse/concert venue/resale shop he opened in 2005, is talking to a couple of boys from Philly who are on the bill that night. Standing near the front door of the long, high-ceilinged room—piled high with records, books, and knickknacks, all of which could be yours for an impossibly low price—they ask Trimboli what time they take the stage, tucked into the cozy space’s back-right corner.

“You’re last,” says Trimboli. “You’ve got a couple hours. There’s a pizzeria on the other side of the block. Rice and beans next-door—Chinese, too.”

“Any barbershops?” the tall one asks.

Trimboli’s face opens into a grin, his kind eyes widening. “A-ha!” he laughs, good-naturedly. The tall one’s bandmate protests that he’s serious.

I’m serious,” Trimboli says. “A-ha! The neighborhood’s come long way since I got this place. But we’re still in Bushwick.”

Opening GBM took serious effort. Trimboli took the space in 2000—back when a number of his neighbors were crack houses—because he had 60 days to evacuate a Hoboken warehouse that held the contents, which he intended to sell, of an 11-room house. Five years of selling off that inventory, mostly via eBay, generated the necessary startup funds; later came months of securing permits to serve coffee and drinks, etc. He finally opened GBM in 2005 and expected to break even within a year; it took him closer to two. But Trimboli, an industry vet (he operated the celebrated Scrap Bar from ’86 to ’95), is committed to his vision: There’s free live music here every night, and he books anyone who asks to play. (The Voice awarded GBM “Best Place to See Great Up-and-Coming Bands” in 2006.) “We may not re-book a band, of course,” he says. “But I’ve never said no.” That kind of dedication inspires a lot of loyalty—and these days that loyalty is particularly useful.

In the week after Christmas 2006, Trimboli discovered what he describes as a little ball he could roll along his jawline; a few months later he was diagnosed with tonsillar cancer. After 30 rounds of radiation and chemotherapy—along with a surgery less than six weeks ago that’s left him with little to no feeling on the right side of his head, neck, and shoulder (not to mention a wicked scar)—Trimboli appears to be in the clear for now: He just received his first clean bill of health. “It’s like this aura of numb,” he explains to me, waving his hand in circles over his head. “But I should regain it all back. Except my ear. The doctors say I might never feel my ear again.”

With no insurance, though—like so many of the culture’s most tireless supporters—Trimboli owes mountains of money: to Bellevue, where his treatment took place; to the companies whose credit cards he’s maxed out; to the banks who approved his loans; to his landlords, for the rent he got behind on. Even money for his pre-treatment dental procedures: He had to have multiple teeth removed to clear the path for the radiation. “I listened to the surgeons hem and haw over which ones to remove—maybe this one, maybe that one,” he recalls. “I thought, ‘Well, now we’re just shopping for fuckin’ lingerie.’ ”

I ask if he’s in real danger of losing the space. “Of course I am,” he says simply. “The banks, the credit card companies . . . I’m in serious debt. But I’m fighting like hell to alleviate it.”

Enter Brooklyn’s DIY music scene—a chance for all those bands to whom Trimboli first provided a stage and an audience to give back. Unbeknownst to the man of the hour, Glasslands planned a benefit for November 21; Saturday night, Silent Barn hosted one as well. Spearheaded by Russ Waterhouse, a sometimes promoter and one-half of Blues Control (“About the greatest noise people who play” at GBM, Trimboli raves), the Silent Barn fundraiser offered sets by six bands in both the upstairs and downstairs spaces of the house venue in Ridgewood, Queens. Prior to the show, when I ask Trimboli if he plans to attend, he waffles a little.

“I have a crisis of conscience regarding these things,” he says. “You know, the whole time I had Scrap Bar, we only hosted two benefits. The first was for a guy stuck in the hospital; the second was for someone on trial for murder, I think, being held at Rikers Island or something. My understanding has always been that benefits are for people who can’t get to where the party is.”

In the end he decides to go, and we head over a little after 10 p.m.—sans Trimboli’s ubiquitous “Fuck Cancer” cap, since he wants to “blend in.” It doesn’t matter, of course: The people who are there to support him know exactly who he is. Waterhouse commends GBM’s democratic nature toward bands; he later relays news that people are contributing more than the $15 cap on admission (the lowest suggested contribution was $5). Upon introduction, John Chavez—a featured performer and Silent Barn resident who helped Waterhouse curate the show—tells Trimboli that GBM was the first place his former band ever played.

“What band?” Trimboli asks.

“Oh, the Punks,” responds Chavez, clearly without any expectations that Trimboli might recall a band that played his space one night almost two years ago.

“Aw, hell yeah,” Trimboli shoots back, recalling details of the group down to the occupation of the drummer’s father. “I have a recording of that show on one of my hard drives.” This is a man who books four bands a night, seven nights a week. And while some forgettable acts probably don’t occupy such specific space in his memory, the fact that many do speaks to his earlier claim that at GBM, fans are there to really listen to the music. So’s the owner.

When I ask Trimboli when he might see the fruits of everyone’s efforts, he waves off the question. “I’m just tickled pink that anyone thought about doing it,” he says. “I don’t expect anything. I’ve done the best I could. And if it’s meant to be, something good will happen.”