The Brief, Charmed Life
of an Atlanta Punk Mecca
We called it “six eighty-eight.” That’s it. It was a perfect name. It was generic. The name of the club was just its address on Spring Street. Just like punk rock, it stood for nothing and everything all at once. Even though I’d had my musical eyes opened mostly in Athens, at Tyrone’s O.C. and the 40 Watt Club, no self-respecting Georgia punk rocker in the early 1980s could go more than a month or two without a trip to Atlanta to 688. As long as you could make it a mile from 688 to the Krispy Kreme on Ponce de Leon for sugar and caffeine, you were good for the drive home.
I saw shows there that remain in my memory to this day, 30 years later. I remember being bewitched by the beauty (both physical and musical) of the Bangles, then being afraid to talk to them when they unexpectedly showed up at the Majestic Diner while I was eating a 2 a.m. breakfast there with my friends. I remember when my dear friend Jimmy Ellison succumbed to brain cancer, a bunch of my friends and I went from his funeral to 688 to see this new band from L.A.: Los Lobos. They were touring behind their first little EP, “… And a Time to Dance.” We danced to Jimmy’s memory. And I remember the first time my beloved Minutemen came to Atlanta to play 688 and they spent the night at my rental house because it was a better alternative than driving through the night to Charlotte. I’ve stayed friends with Mike Watt ever since.
688 was a magical place.
The last time I went there was in 1985, five years after it had opened and only a year before it would close. I was living in New York and had been hired to write about the Replacements for Spin magazine’s first issue. When I called the band’s publicist to make arrangements, it turned out the easiest thing was for me to fly back home to Atlanta to hang with them for a weekend around a show at 688. The publicist told me to meet the band during sound check before the show.
I arrived at the appointed time, and I walked down the long, graffiti-decorated hallway just inside the club’s door. As I adjusted to the darkness, I saw Bob Stinson, the Replacements’ simultaneously pathetic and heroic guitarist, walking down the hall toward me. I had never met Stinson before, but he walked up to me like I was his friend and said, “Hey, man, you know where to get any coke or crank in this town?” Out of the darkness behind him came the Replacements’ leader, Paul Westerberg. He grabbed Bob by the shoulder and yelled, “Bob! No!” Like you’d yell at a dog.
You don’t need me to give you a history of American punk rock. Michael Azerrad and Charles Aaron and countless others have written the history better than I ever could, and you can find it if you look around. You just need to know that for six years, the South had 688, a place that mattered as much to us as CBGB mattered to New York City.
Today, John Varvatos sells leather jackets for $2,000 in the old CBGB’s space, and 688 Spring St. in Atlanta is a Concentra Urgent Care Center. Time marches on, damn it.