While reporting from remote locations for NY1, Roger Clark has sung Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” and shredded on the air guitar for a solid minute of live television. For the past decade, viewers of his feature stories have come to know Clark as a loveable dork with rock star reveries. But he really does have a bit of musical street cred. Clark and co-worker Bunny Hirsch play monthly gigs as Perp Walk, a drum/bass duo with songs like “Tranny Man” and “Stench In My Kitchen.” They’re jamming tonight at Hank’s Saloon and then again in March at The Way Station, as part of a Lou Reed tribute.
A few years ago, Clark went to see Hirsch, an engineer at NY1, play bass with her old band The Spines at Lakeside Lounge in the East Village. “And I was thinking in my head, ‘Boy, I wish I was in this band,’” Clark remembers.
It wasn’t the first time he had band envy. Back in middle school, Queens-bred Clark had to buy a set of drum sticks for school, and at the end of seventh grade, he asked to play drums in the eighth grade band. “Can’t do it Roger,” the band teacher said. “You just have no rhythm whatsoever.”
Then, in 11th grade, some of his buddies wanted to start their own band.
“’Do you play anything?’” his friends asked. “And I was like, ‘I have drum sticks.’” And that’s how Clark joined his first band, Early Jitters. The first song they ever played together was “Blitzkrieg Bop” by The Ramones.
Before CBGB closed, Clark performed three times at free showcases there — with Early Jitters as well as with bands named Screw Virginia and The Slip. But he never toured with them; instead he turned to his passion for broadcasting, which he studied at Syracuse.
In 2001, the now 46-year-old was hired at NY1, where he eventually met Hirsch.
In the Summer of 2012, Hirsch started Perp Walk with a singer friend. When they auditioned Clark, he hadn’t played in a decade.
Perp Walk at Otto’s Shrunken Head
“I showed up and it was this studio in Greenpoint” – Looming – “and literally you walk into the building, walk up the stairs and then across a fire escape, and I was like ‘What the hell? Where is this?’ And I got in there and then we started playing the songs and it was so easy, like it just came naturally,” Clark said. “All of the sudden I was back.”
Perp Walk’s singer soon departed, and it’s been Clark and Hirsch ever since. “We get along well because we’re both native New Yorkers,” Clark said. Both have to wake up at 5 a.m. to work the morning shift at NY1, but sharing a schedule is condusive to setting up rehearsal time (they practice once or twice a week at Funkadelic Studios in Hell’s Kitchen).
Perp Walk at Otto’s Shrunken Head
Hirsch is a classically-trained cellist and an electrical engineer who builds her own guitar pedals and makes her own cables. Clark, on the other hand, is self-taught. “I have to confess,” he says. “When I used to write songs for my own bands, everything was about, ‘This girl dumped me/Oh I love you/Why won’t you talk to me?’ Her songs are like rats attacking you in Colombia.”
That song, “Rats,” came about when Hirsch witnessed rodents infesting a beachside nature park in South America. Others are largely inspired by everything from ’80s punk rock (think Dictators, Blondie) to Rush (Clark also loved last year’s Julie Ruin album). The lyrics tend toward the comical. On “Shrimp,” Clark sings: “Jumbo shrimp/Big shrimp/Cocktail sauce/I’m at a loss.”
Listen to Perp Walk
Otto’s Shrunken Head in the East Village and Freddy’s Bar in the South Slope have consistently booked Perp Walk. They’ve done one show at Cake Shop on the Lower East Side; Clark and Hirsch aspire to play venues in Bushwick and Williamsburg — particularly Spike Hill on Bedford Avenue. “I’ve sent requests to Spike Hill, they say no,” Clark says. “Just ’cause I’m on TV doesn’t help.”
On March 5, Perp Walk will be one of the bands participating in a Lou Reed tribute at The Way Station, a Dr. Who-themed bar in Prospect Heights. Neither Clark nor Hirsch ever met the late Velvet Underground songwriter, although Reed and wife Laurie Anderson came on NY1 a few years ago to speak out against a proposed garbage-truck garage near the Hudson River.
Even though Clark and Hirsch work for the news network, they still geeked out over one surprise sighting of its morning news anchor. “It was so funny because we’re playing one song into the show, and then we see Pat Kiernan walk in and it was like, ‘Oh shit!’” said Clark. “I totally didn’t expect that. He was cool. He’s a big supporter and he was tweeting the names of songs and stuff.”
Two more big supporters are Clark’s wife, Jennifer Gill, a member of The Dysfunctional Theatre Company, and their nearly-three-year-old son, Jack. “He listens to kiddie music but also he likes Joan Jett,” Clark says. “I just taught him Black Flag the other day — ‘Gimme Gimme Gimme’ — and he thinks that’s hilarious.”
At Hank’s this evening, Perp Walk will be the middle act between Boxtopus, a couple of wig-wearing Anglophiles with guitars and a nose flute, and The Clover, an all-female Japanese Beatles cover band. The show starts at 8 p.m.