Wayne Viens Interview
April 27, 2016 - Store 54, Allston, MA
Wayne Viens-Valdez-Podworny- whichever name you want to use - has been on our scene here in Boston since the very early 80's. Right away he became a vital part of the community. And "community" seems to be a value that Wayne has lived by all these years. He has innovative ideas and visions and he builds on those with other people. Not because he has to but because he wants to share his ideas with others. He's brought a lot to our community over the years and with the closing of his latest venture the new Store 54 closing we decided to talk to him about it all.
We met down in Store 54 just before the final retail weekend to talk to Wayne as well as Janice, his girlfriend and business partner, and Justin who also works closely with them both at Store 54..
We are all sad to see his wonderful Store 54 close but we also know Wayne isn't going anywhere and will continue to be in our lives and coming up with more ideas to work on in the future!!
BGN-What was your vision coming here to this new Store 54?
W- Well I was at Goodwill for like 15 years. That sort of reached its end. St Vincent De Paul wanted me but I'd have to travel out to Framingham and Brockton places like that. I didn't want to do that. So I was hanging out with Joseph at the Middle East and I said "I don't know what I'm gonna do." We were trying to figure out if there was anything I could do there. And then he said "Hey I have the Firehouse over in Allston" So we came over here to look at it. And I was like "Yeah this is cool" It was a mess, but I could handle it. So we made a deal and I spent the fall and in to the winter working on this place. The one thing I knew I wanted to do here was that.
Wayne points to the stage in the corner behind us.
BGN- The stage.
W - Yeah. That was one of the first things I did. I already was thinking "I want to do young bands and older bands." And as far as what I was gonna have for sale...I was gonna have a little bit of everything. I didn't have a clear vision but I knew it was gonna be like a thrift shop. I knew I wanted to do the music and I knew I wanted to show art. I knew I was gonna sell records and probably sell clothes.
BGN- Did you have stock already?
W- It was mostly stuff I already owned. I was selling off my own my record, books and things. Then Janice came in with a friend on the first day we were open.
BGN - When was that?
W- 5 years ago this month. Janice can tell you about that….I gotta go close up. (Wayne leaves.)
Janice- Well during the time that Wayne was setting up to open was when Billy Ruane died. Billy never got to see this place. So this was a transformation space for Wayne during that time for him, for those months. And in the spring it was a rebirth. One of my friends used to work for Wayne when he was 15, he's 31 now. Wayne kind plucked him up 'cause he was kind of a ragamuffin back then. He worked with Wayne for years. He brought me here on opening day and I ended up selecting a lot of things that used to belong to Wayne. And we hit it off and we spent a lot of time together.
I had a retail store in Alaska that was incredibly similar to this when I was 15 to 18. My dad helped me start my first business. That was my income so I could do fun stuff in my free time. After about a year of me working with Wayne Justin joined us and we started going out picking together. We have similar taste and we get along well. A little while later we started merchandizing and staging the store. We worked so beautifully together…it's a collaboration. We created art together.
W- Yeah! You know as a manager, I managed 11 people at Goodwill, you have to step back and see what people are good at and let them do it. I can merchandise but…if it were just me it would be like Sanford & Son and that would be fine with me. Janice has kept me on track though. I mean think about it I spent most of my life doing that kind of thing. I did it at Goodwill and we're talking volume. I mean the store had to look good but.....
Janice- We have limited space here and the three of us have tuned ourselves to be very selective. It's about quality, it's about taste. And we stand by it. The stuff in here is stuff we would have ourselves and that's a standard we live by. There's a story behind each item and especially being in this college town. There's a lot of young people and they're seeing things that are from before their time, that are made in the United States. There's quality. It's a place where Wayne has been able to influence thousands of young people.
W- This young girl came in here, after she found out we were closing, and she was like "I've been coming here since high school…you've really affected me" I mean she was tearing up! And yeah, it's not like when I used to go digging...like when Paul did the Lives of The Poor and Unknown on me. He had a picture of a me in a dumpster and the caption "Here's Wayne's wholesale supplier."
But in the 80's I was known for being a trash picker. It wasn't a secret. I was proud of myself. I made a living picking the trash for a long time. It was fun. I mean I did buy stuff off people but I wasn't going to auctions.
Janice- Now we go to auctions, and flea markets, estate sales. We were in Arlington in an attic and it must've been 150 degrees and we found these vintage Levi's.
BGN- I think when you come down into the store you're impressed. The stuff you see here is not at all like the crap out there today. It's educational too.
W- I mean yeah it is part museum.
BGN- Now Justin how did you get involved?
Justin- About 4 years ago I just kind of stumbled in…you know....fell down the stairs. (Everyone laughs) I was between jobs at the time and I started asking questions: Do you guys need any help here? Is it just you or someone else? As it turned out my friend Chip was working here and had just left so I stumbled in at the right time. You know, I was sweeping the patio…helping unpack things. Then Janice became a friend and a couple weeks later we were going picking together.
Janice- I thought he was just too cool.
Justin- I worked at Urban Outfitters before. I had 13 years in retail and I've always played in bands. In retail I've done very high volume, high pressure Newbury Street sales and really corporate retail and management, too. And during the busy season you had to work 70 hours a week…you were just expected to. Retail is just one of the things I do. I sing and play guitar with Earthquake Party...for about 6 years now. I play drums in Beach Toys, I've been doing that for about two years. And I just started playing drums in another band called Gold Muse. They are all different styles and a lot of fun.
BGN- Are you all surprised at all the attention you're getting here after all this time?
Janice- I think we've had a decent amount of exposure. We were on Chronicle.
W- Yeah we got a little bump from that. And you guys have been so good…and T. Max...Vanyaland - I've had support but we've never advertised. Facebook helped. I can't imagine what it would have been like without it. That guy who did the GBH article, he's a young guy and he's a customer. He said he wanted to do a story on us and he usually does about 600 words. He convinced them to let him just go for it.
BGN- Now what about Looney Tunes. They were in here for a while.
W- Well Looney Tunes had to leave. But we really need to mention Billy Jordan. Billy's been around forever. He was the Del Fuegos roadie and soundman. He went on tour with Scruffy. He worked with Patrick (McGrath) forever. So when Patrick gave that up Billy came here. He's been here 4 years. He really knows his stuff.
BGN- What about the music you have here? We always say one of the coolest nights out is to go to Store 54 to see a band. You also had bands playing at your original Store 54 on the Fenway.
W- Well here, we've got two fire exits, we're up to code. In the Fenway it was a rickety-ass stairway and one doorway. One time the Bodeens played there and we brought their manager down there. He was a big guy...and he was in a wheelchair. And I'm just thinking "My God I hope nothing happens!"
BGN- Who else was down there? Didn't the Replacements play there?
W- When the Replacements played at Jumpin' Jack Flash, which was just down the street, we used my place as a dressing room/party room. But music-wise we had Scruffy, The Flies....the Bosstones used to rehearse there...Chainlink Fence, The Condo Pigmies and a few other bands. And most of those shows were after hours, after 2AM. I got away with that shit forever because we didn't charge to get in! But the very last show I ever did there, was more like a party. We bought a lot of kegs and I put someone at the door and said "Just charge two bucks." So the cops send some undercover guys in and they paid and got stamped...and then I got raided. And I knew half the cops! They were duty cops from the Rat. They didn't want to be there.
Now at the time, I was having a show of Ted Papercut's artwork...and it was all pigs. Some of them had cop hats on! So the cops are shining their flashlights up on the walls and I'm like "Oh geezz!" So they bring me outside and they were giving me a hard time. They patted me down and I had my motorcycle jacket on and I had a stupid ass switchblade comb in one of the pockets. So the cop finds it and pulls it out and says "Oh tough guy huh??" and pushes the button and out pops a comb!! Everybody laughed…but they took me away, they locked me up! And here's the thing - they took the kegs! Cause they had their own afterhours parties, especially back then.
BGN- And what about the shows here in this Store 54?
W- Well we always wanted to make sure the bands got something. When I first started doing the shows we'd put a hat out….
BGN- And nobody was putting anything in it.
W- At the end of the night I'd be like "REALLY??" Then we had "suggested donations"…and you know here comes somebody walking in here with $12 six pack and saying "Well I can give you 2 bucks." So we started putting somebody at the door. No one did this for the money but I wanted the people who played here to at least have gas money at the end of the night.
The biggest thing for me was people would come to me at the end of the night and say "This is so awesome!" You know, when you're playing in the club system it gets kind of old. And it's almost insulting what they pay you because they're selling alcohol too. But people fell in love.
Janice- It was intimate. Everybody was here for the musicians. And especially for Wayne's friends who have become very successful, they have an opportunity to play for their friends and for a select group of young people. It was also a place for a lot of new bands to start. Justin's band played here.
BGN- And you had the Bob Colby series. He had all kinds of different bands here.
W- Well you know...fucking Bob Colby! He's been here from day one! From Frenzy magazine...from before that! And I wanted to give him a place to do his thing…And he's moving next year…you know. Plus it was good to get Bob in here because…I don't know what the hell's goin' on. There were some of his shows where I was like "Oh my god, this band is amazing!"
Justin- Plus this is acoustically a great place to play. It's a small room and it sounds about three times better than it does at O'Brien's across the street. And that make s it really fun coz it sounds so good on stage!
Wayne- I always had the bands telling me it sounded great on stage but also it sounded good to the audience...yet you could be toward the back and be chatting and hear each other. And people could chat and it didn't interfere with the band either.
Janice - The acoustics help but it's also a very interactive experience. I think I noticed that sometimes we'd get some people in here that are odd or kind of shy. If you see them at show by themselves they're just standing there waiting for the music. But here there's something for them to dive into; the records and all these objects…to look at the objects or talk to somebody about an object. Not to mention the mixture of the young bands and the old bands and the age range of 20 to 60 the audience. Because of the community aspect I think that Wayne's establishment has really been a valuable asset to this neighborhood. Wayne and I have been together for five years and most the shows we've been to have been our own here, we wanted it to be fun for us as well. And there's the power of attraction. One of Justin's friends from high school worked at Berkshire Mountain Distillers and they sponsored a lot of our shows.
Justin- People just wanted to be involved. They wanted to come here! That just was an 8 seconds conversation. I mentioned Store 54 and he said "Oh you work at that place? Cool! I should come and we can serve our stuff."
BGN - It is cool is there is a multi-generational thing going on here. Are there a lot of college kids that come here on a regular basis?
W- It's not the college kids so much as it's those people are just…us…but younger. . There's also been a lot of Europeans and when they come they fucking love it. They're getting force fed everything else and they seem to appreciate that this place is a real thing…more than college kids do. But we have turned some people around and they start coming in on a regular basis who aren't hipsters, they're not involved in the music and things we are.
But sometimes it's hard to get people down here. I mean I'm out there with signs, arrows, a chalkboard, music. I try to coax people down. People look and I can get 'em in the courtyard. And I can hear them at the top of the stairs: "Should we go down there???" I stopped putting my baby doll shit out there, I think there's only one left.
BGN- Is it scaring them?
W- I read it in a Yelp review! She actually came down and she goes "There's some creepy baby doll head totem things out there that might scare the weak of heart! This one guy, his girlfriend didn't wanted to come down. He said 'You know that scene in Pulp Fiction when the guy is chained up in the basement with with the geek? My girlfriend was like 'That's what's gonna happen to us! We're not gonna come back!"
Janice- I think Boston is much richer because of Wayne. Because of his energy and his goodwill and just everything about him has really affected the world around him. I see it in people he's known for a long time and people that have just met him. There's incredible energy that he's put out there and I know that it's a difficult thing for him to leave something he's so familiar with. This has been his identity and I think that it's great that he's going to look back at his archive of photographs and what he's captured in the Boston rock'n'roll scene and work on that. And on a personal standpoint we've been through a lot together and a lot of times we put the store before ourselves because it's important to us that people to appreciate the place. And there's so much joy in watching someone purchase something that we thought was amazing or used to be ours.
BGN- Well Wayne's a heavy planet that attracts moons.
Janice - YES!!
Janice and Justin leave to do other things...
BGN- So now we will focus on you Wayne. What's your accent? You didn't grow up in Boston.
W- I grew up in Providence. When I was a teenager we used to hitchhike up here all the time . We went to the Boston Common, the Cambridge Common, we went to hippie shows. I always wanted to live here. Then I was in the Marine Corps for 3 years.
BGN- Why did you want to join the marines?
W- You know...things were tough back then. I got in some trouble...the judge said something like 'you might want to think about enlisting'. So I was lucky I never left the country even though I was in the infantry, 1973 -76. I was a guy with a rifle! I got out and was hanging out in Rhode Island…and I used to go to the original Lupo's. I was really into the blues scene there - Roomful of Blues, NRBQ, Memphis Rockabilly band. There was a big music scene. At a club like Lupo's everyone was there - young, old, bikers…all kinds of people. When I came up here there was less age diversity.
Anyway I came up here because I went to NESOP (New England School of Photography) I was really immersed in the roots and blues and all that. But then I saw the Ramones and that was like "Wow, what the fuck is that?!?" I remember seeing all about 'punk rock' on the Tom Schneider show on TV.
Being at NESOP, we had that record shop on the corner...New England Music City… They had all the imports, they had great stuff. I was already a record collector so I started buying all this punk rock. I was friendly with a night student at NESOP, Neil Trousdale. He told me about the Rat and that got me to start dipping my toe in it once in a while. Then in around '81 I started going more.
And I was married for about a year then, don't ask me why. I started going more while I was working at NESOP. Then I left my wife got a studio apartment in the Fenway. One of my friends had a loft on North Hampton Street. We had some crazy times there. He had the Del Fuegos play, Willie was there and I used to go to the HooDoo. And I was hangin' out at the Rat and taking pictures, and I 'd bring prints to people the next day. Then I really started hanging with the Fuegos and the next thing you know I'm working with James at the Hoodoo. We really hit it off and I wound up doing prep work for him.
And...no matter what I do I have to mention Jimmy Ryan! He always helped Mr. Butch, he helped Rocky. And at the HooDoo...we didn't work for him we worked with him. We were friends. He was, and is, a great guy.
For a while I kept the job at NESOP too. Then I knew this guy who was renting a storefront in the Fenway and I started renting it to live in and left my studio. I had no intention of opening a store. It was just cheaper than my studio rent and he had built a loft in there and I thought to myself "Hey I can have parties in here!" I used to fantasize as a kid of having a place where people could come and listen to music, but I wasn't thinking bar, it was something else really. And then with the storefront I made it happen.
Then the storefront next door came up as available so I knocked a hole in the wall. Then I got the bands, they helped me with the rent. The reason I started doing a store is …well I used to go trash picking with my grandfather, that's where it all started. And where we lived for, like, spring cleaning, you could put anything out in the trash once a year. We used to go to different towns to follow those spring clean ups. I loved that shit. So now I'm in the Fenway, riding around on my bike finding great shit. And with the students moving in and out I had a bunch of stuff and I thought "You know I'm just gonna open a store!" And I did.
The Fenway was so much fun then. Dickie Barrett was squatting across the street with a bunch of kids. Kenne Highland would come over for lunch. You know I was ON the street.
So then I gave up the NESOP job. I started going everywhere with the Fuegos and I was working at the Rat so I could go see anyone I wanted to. As far as photography goes back then it was film not digital and I had a budget so as a photographer I focused on my friends. When I think about it...it does drive me a little crazy...you know who did I see? Everybody! REM, Husker Du, tons of bands but I didn't shoot them. I was shooting James, Dan Zanes, The Del Fuegos but I'm glad that I have all that. I did shoot the Replacements but I got to know them and was close that's why.
BGN- So one of the things you want to do now is focus on getting your photos together?
W- Well here we are, I'm 62 this year, right? I've done some scans and stuff but I could really spend more time at it. You know when the Bosstones played their Throwdown last year, it was The Rat theme and they had a silent auction of photographs. They asked me to put some in , I had a lot in there and they all sold. That felt really great, you know? Now I need to sit down, methodically go through everything…make files…Dogmatics here, Del Fuegos here…whoever.
BGN- Did you go to art school?
W- No, I just started doing this stuff in the Fenway...trash picking. I had all this shit and I was affected by the Museum School and Mass Art. I did paper collage, I love doing paper collage but I had all this shit and…it just came out of nowhere. Then I got involved with the Revolving Museum. That was Jerry Beck. Remember he did the trains show?
BGN- YES! That whole idea was so awesome! It was in the abandoned MBTA cars down in what is now called the Seaport District!
W- I got involved with Jerry and I was on A Street for like 10 years. And we had a huge loft- 800 square feet 12 foot ceiling and I really got involved in doing art and I was doing huge pieces and people started buying my work. And then Ruby was born and I moved to a Vernon Street studios for a while. Then I moved all my shit up to Asa's barn up in New Hampshire, I have a giant studio up there. Last year I went up there for a couple of weeks and I made a few things. And I liked having that. But I actually started selling art.
BGN- And you won a Somerville Arts Council grant.
W- Yeah, you had you do a public display of your art and I worked at Goodwill then so I started doing the Halloween windows every year, which freaked a lot of people out. I tried to keep it on the light side and not too sexual. I mean look at that thing….(Wayne points to the sculpture behind us). Even at A Street when they had open studios I had a lady come at me waving her finger saying "You should have a warning sign outside your studio!!" And I would make an effort not to make it too wild and the thing is kids would love the stuff.
But at Goodwill I never let anyone know it was me, because I wanted to hear what they had to say about the windows! And people would say shit like "I don't know who the fuck did that but they need some help!!" And I'd say "No they have an outlet, don't you get it?" or I'd get political and say "When you cut the program money for arts in the schools kids don't have an outlet - that's therapy." Yeah people would say some dumb-ass stuff "Oh that's so weird!!" Well, you're holding you weird shit in!! And I know some of it is weird but I'm happy I can put it out in a 3 dimensional form. And it means something different to me than it does to you.
And at Goodwill I would have Boby Bear do windows with me. He would do reverse painting and I got them to pay Boby, every year for like three or four years! He would do one window and I'd do the other. That was so much damned fun… they gave me money! But then I just let it go. But I do miss making art and I really want to see what I'm gonna make now!
BGN- So you still have the desire to create?
W- Oh God yeah! I just haven't been able to. And at my age I don't want to regret not doing something with those photos I have. I don't want to leave it to Ruby and Janice and Linda, you know. I mean in the end I will leave it to them. But not in a state where they are like "What are we gonna do with all this?"
BGN- That's why we wish there was a place where we could leave all this stuff. Leave these legacies. There's the Music Museum of New England they're not brick and mortar.
W- I've already talked to David Bieber about this.
BGN- Yeah he has the same problem! he has so much stuff!
W- What's in the back of my head is 'Wouldn't it be awesome if we had a building with all our shit in it. People would come!'
BGN- What we need is an entity that is bigger than us. It may end up we have to do what Arthur Freedman did, donate everything to Harvard Archives.
W- The Boston Photographic Resource Center is working on some shows of Boston Rock n Roll now. I sent them some portraits and they came back saying right now for the first show they were looking for performance shots. So I sent them some other stuff. I was in a show there years ago, Katie Lyle helped me get into it. The guy who shot Elvis in '56 was in that show!! He followed Elvis for a year- it was a big show. I had pictures of the Del Fuegos. We went out to this island in Rhode Island and it was deer hunting season. I got pictures of them on the dock lifting up the back legs of a dead deer. I got them surrounded by 10 dead deer. I put those in that show and I sold every friggin' one of them!
BGN- So tell us about your bands - there was Valdez the Sinner...
W- Well I'm not a musician. I don't play an instrument. I've always been a big music fan from a young age. My grandparents used to bring me to Indian Ranch where you could bring the family for a day outing. You'd have a picnic then there'd be Johnny Cash! We went a lot and I saw everyone, Buck Owens all those people.
So here I am in Boston, I'm hanging around and it's a DIY thing. I see these people in bands, you know some of them couldn't even play their instruments hardly. I'm already friends with Jack Hickey and Randall and the other guys. So I made a tape of all covers…and I said 'Let's do this' I mean this wasn't a career path thing it was just for fun. So we did it and we had a good time.
Then there was the Crown Electric Company…well Linda (Viens) was in bands and I said "Hey we should be in a band together." A party band, cover band. And to go back to the idea of community we used to use that VFW hall next to Green Street. The Funky White Honkies used to play there too. For most of our shows we would rent a hall. There was a American Legion right outside of Davis Square. We used to do stuff with Quiver. The first show we did there we told them we were having a birthday party. The place was jammed, they ran out of everything they had. And the manager said "If you guys ever want to do anything again do it here! Just let us know!"
So we loved doing that…..that was a 12 piece ensemble. We had Ken Fields, Rich Gilbert played keyboard. It was fun! So was Valdez the Sinner. Now I just jump on stage with my friends. My favorite show was the Peter O'Halloran Benefit at the Rat. It was captured brilliantly on You Tube. All that stuff came from being at the Rat and hanging out with everyone.
BGN - So let's get back to the Store 54 and you are really leaving!
W- No one's forcing me out of here. If was making more money I'd stay and I'd even hand it off to Justin. I would like to have a little more money. And I don't want to go into debt. You know the Saters treat me like family. They love me and I love them. I went to their mom's funeral. She was 92.
Now here's a quick story: Her parents left Lebanon before she was born. Cause of some strife over there. They moved to Columbia when she was 17 and then to Mexico. Then she went back to Lebanon and got married and had 5 kids. Then Joseph and Nabile came here and everyone else followed. She was an amazing women. Zuzu had a show of her needlepoint, it was just unbelievable.
But anyway… this place...I am here all the time. There's other stuff I'd like to do. I haven't even mentioned that I want to spend more time with my daughter Ruby, she's 17 now. But it's not the end of this either. We're gonna do Pop Up stores….they want me to do the Pop Allston thing. And we'll do Brimfield, maybe even twice a year. We'll do eBay. And I'll still be in the neighborhood. And this neighborhood is changing. They're putting in high rise apartment buildings. Do Re Me the karaoke place used to be up the street.
BGN- It's a hole now
W- That's gonna be high rises. The commuter rail is gonna stop at GBH. Some training camp is gonna be over there. You know what happened to the Fenway neighborhood, its gonna start happening here. So on one hand, if I rode that out I might get some business from that. But on the other hand that's when guys with clipboards start coming around.