Neil Young said that it’s better to burn out than it is to rust. Obviously, he’s never rocked in Bay Ridge.
The Brooklyn music world might be dominated by young hipsters in Williamsburg, but an older crowd of Bay Ridge cover artists are proving that age — like a venue’s listed maximum capacity — is nothing but a number.
Vocalist and guitarist Frankie Marra has seen bands and venues come and go during his 30 years on the bar circuit. And he’s seen music go from rock to disco to punk to New Wave and back again.
But the only difference between the 20-something rocker of the 1980s and today’s 53-year-old frontman of Frankie Marra and his Band are the expectations.
“When we were younger, we thought we would be the next signed artists on Columbia, but at our age, we do it just because we still get a kick out of it,” said Marra, whose rock and roll dream got him no further than a gig working as a body guard for Bruce Springsteen.
For Marra — and the other golden oldies who know they’ll never put out a golden record — only the thrill of performing keeps them proving it all night.
“We’re proud that people aren’t looking at us and thinking, ‘These guys should have just stayed home,’” said Mike Riddle, a 55-year-old neighborhood legend — known for his 1970s band, Rhodes, and his 1980s New Wave act, City Kids.
He’s still rocking hard, now with his new band, Prodigal Child.
The rush of being on stage keeps Marra and his gang banging out classics from the British invasion, standards like “Hotel California,” and, when the crowd seems younger, (slightly more) contemporary tracks like Radiohead’s 1992 smash “Creep.”
Then again, the crowd is rarely younger. In fact, the Narrows-side neighborhood is what is known as a “Naturally Occurring Retirement Community” — one where folks over 60-years-old occupy more than 40 percent of homes.
Yet those graying residents are the key to old rockers’ revival.
“My audience is 40- to 60-year-olds, predominately — and they want to hear the songs from their youth,” said Marra, who is at his best belting out hits by Van Morrison and John “Cougar” Mellencamp. “People in Bay Ridge want covers, that’s why we gravitate here.”
Venue owners like Bobby Daquara — whose Greenhouse Café on Third Avenue is the de facto center of the Gray Rock scene — say they book old rockers because of the kinds of crowds they draw.
“A lot of bars in Bay Ridge don’t want to deal with kids. You want to get a mature crowd — otherwise you risk losing your liquor license,” he said.
As the bands have grown older, the challenges of being in a band have changed, but they haven’t gone away. While younger crooners must overcome a wild life on the road typified by drug use, STDs, and the pleasant distraction of groupies, older rockers face a unique set of problems — like Riddle’s arthritis.
“Performing is way more taxing,” said Riddle, who has only about 80 percent mobility in his left hand, but still offers up a set list filled with guitar gods like Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughn. “When we played our first gig with two long sets, we were kind of shocked — it felt like we were up there for an eternity.”
Most of Bay Ridge’s older rockers say they are happy to have settled down with wives, children, and careers — but that doesn’t mean they don’t miss the days of being wild.
“Having jobs and careers and families makes it harder. Life gets in the way now,” said Tony Ieva, 51, a bus driver and drummer who covers Bob Dylan, the Beatles and the Byrds in his band Our Back Pages. Ieva cut his teeth as a teenager in the legendary 1970s band Flashback.
“Back then, with no kids, and no job, you could be out there playing rock and roll until 3 am — it’s not like that anymore,” Ieva said.
Prodigal Child at Kettle Black [8622 Third Ave., between 86th and 87th streets, (718) 680-7862], Jan. 24, 5 pm; Frankie Marra and his Band at Greenhouse Cafe [7717 Third Ave., between 77th and 78th streets, (718) 833-8200], Jan. 24, 10 pm; Our Back Pages at Bally Bunion [9510 Third Ave., between 95th and 96th streets, (718) 833-2801], Jan. 30, 10 pm.