IN every version of the basic rock star myth, there is the Local Club Where They Got Their Start. The Beatles had the Cavern Club. Bruce Springsteen had the Stone Pony. Those are the early days, and in most versions of the story, it is not just an innocent time, but the rough-edged moment of first inspiration -- the moment that gives rise to another rock cliche: Sure, they're good now, but you should've seen them Back When.
The Pony is closed, but through the efforts of a few true believers who refuse to accept the economic realities of running a small rock club, Back When can be found right now at several other spots in New Jersey.
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The club that has done the best at making a reputation for itself has not been spared the economic roller coaster ride. Maxwell's of Hoboken has shut is doors twice since it began offering live music in 1978: once in the early 80's and again last year after a brief and disastrous incarnation as a microbrew pub. Now the club is back in the hands of two musicians, Steve Shelley (Sonic Youth), Dave Post (Amazing Incredibles) and Todd Abramson.
It's Mr. Abramson, the booker for more than a decade, who is credited by music people throughout the state with maintaining the international cachet for a room that is essentially, like the others, a black box.
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The bands today, he insists, are often as good as their famous predecessors: R.E.M., Oasis, the Offspring, Korn, Lucinda Williams, Sonic Youth, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Shawn Colvin, the Wallflowers. Is it hard to choose his favorite nights? No: Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and the Cowsills.
''I was not a huge fan of the Cowsills and was not expecting anything, but it turned into one of those magical nights,'' Mr. Abramson says.
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