TRIBUTE: Steve Lenge, the motorcyclist who died when his bike was rammed by a speeding Ferrari at the Meadowlands over the weekend, was a hell of a drummer who went on to become one of the first and most successful indie record store owners in the U.S. The 56-year-old father of two was once North Jersey’s King of Import Music. He was also the first kid I met when my family moved to 67th Street and Newkirk Avenue in North Bergen.
Steve and his wife, Angelica, were living in Kinnelon, the proud parents of two girls, Chrystina & Stephanie. He was happy, loving life, family members told CLIFFVIEW PILOT.
“My heart is scarred forever,” said his sister, Nancy Petto. “Don’t know how we’ll all get through this senseless tragedy.”
“We are just heart broken,” said her daughter — and Steve’s niece — Andrea Petto. “But it brings comfort to us knowing he had so many friends who thought so highly of him.”
It was a tribute to Steve’s North Bergen-bred quipster personality — as well as his determination to satisfy each and every customer — that made his Things From England record store in Cliffside Park mecca for those seeking hard-to-get music and concert tickets.
He launched the business in 1979, at a time when punk and New Wave blasted listeners tired of hard rock’s self-indulgent excess with loud, hard and fast music loaded with pop hooks and snappy backbeats.
You could hear that kind of music in a host of Manhattan clubs, or at Aldo’s in Lyndhurst, or Hitsville in Passaic, the Dirt Club in Bloomfield or the Meadowbrook in Cedar Grove. There were also indie radio pioneers WNYC and WLIR.
Buying the music for yourself was a different story, however. If you were into the Cure, the Smiths, Joy Division, the Police, Duran Duran, U2 or any number of new acts from across the pond, Things From England was your only option west of Manhattan or north of Woodbridge.
“Bought many concert tix there, as well as many imports,” CLIFFVIEW PILOT music reviewer Lynn Paret said, as the tragic news spread Monday. “Things From England was my ‘GO TO’ place when I moved back here from London and wanted music I was getting used to over there.”
As formats changed, Steve changed with them — from LP to casette to CD and DVD. But he always got you that mint condition, imported vinyl that couldn’t be found anywhere else within Bergen’s borders (The Stray Cats’ first album, for instance). There were Beatles albums in early stereo and even “The Beach Boys — The Dutch Singles Collection.”
In short: No store north of Vintage Vinyl or the Princeton Record Exchange could touch his.
“The English band Status Quo had a hit around 1968 called ‘Pictures of Matchstick Men,’ which I thought was OK. But around 1971, they started doing boogie-shuffle stuff, which I loved,” said Chris Hasseklus. “The only place I could find their records was Things From England. So sorry to hear about this.”
Among his many bands, Steve was a member of Robbie Watson’s Speedometers, the American version of a British group of the same name, signed by famed booking agent Jim Gianantonio more than 30 years ago.
The band, with Andy Scala on bass and Jon D’more and Scott Bontempo on guitar, played then-popular local venues such as Hitsville and the Fast Lane in Asbury Park, as well as a host of clubs in New York City and elsewhere in the tri-state area. They opened for, among others, Alice Cooper, Ian Hunter, Killing Joke, the Ramones and Cyndi Lauper’s original group, Blue Angel. The Speedometers also played the last-ever gig at Manhattan’s fabled Peppermint Lounge.
At the same time, Steve was buying up exotic imports and reselling them at music conventions in midtown’s elegant Roosevelt Hotel. Pretty soon, he owned enough to finance his labor of love.
He left the band and opened Things From England, an institution that has outlasted most of the acts whose music it originally sold.
It wasn’t all punk and New Wave, either. Metal and other popular genres found a place, as well, among the records that hung from wires strung across the then-cramped store.
Alan Tecchio, who sang lead for Seven Witches, Watchtower and Hades, met Lenge in the 1980s.
“He was kind enough to sell Hades’ 45-inch records in his store on consignment,” said Tecchio, a Closter native.
“Much later in life we realized that we both shared a love not just for rock music but also motorcycles,” he said.
“As a motorcycle safety instructor, I have to say that this is an example of how even a very safety-conscious rider like Steve can be taken out by a sudden, reckless act,” Tecchio added. “Such an absolute shame. I’m still in shock.”
Around 7:45 Sunday morning, Steve was headed to his second job at the Meadowlands Sports Complex — where he helped build the set for the Electric Daisy Festival — when his 2011 Triumph was struck head-on by one of two 2006 Ferraris on the Berry’s Creek service road. Steve was wearing a helmet, authorities said.
The driver of one of the cars, 19-year-old Joseph Meyer of Florida, lost control coming around a turn, New Jersey State Police said. The vehicle spun, hit two curbs and caused the driver of the other Ferrari, 28-year-old Joseph Ferretti of Dumont, to lose control of his car. It swerved into the oncoming lane, smashing Steve’s bike.
Investigators determined that both cars were speeding, NJSP Trooper Christopher Kay said.
“I grew up on Grand Avene and Stevie lived on Cottage Avenue. We were back door neighbors,” said John Caino, a North Bergen native who now lives in Northvale. “He was a HAM radio operator, and he took me inside to show me the equipment that he used to talk to people around the world.
“We rode our mini-bikes together down the swamps, and we had a lot of fun,” Caino told CLIFFVIEW PILOT. “I was very sad when I heard the news. My condolences to his wife and children.”
Steve didn’t need the formal training those of us who went on to productive jobs did. Throughout his career, he weathered the ups and downs of a volatile business, using his noggin and good humor.
Music was his passion, one that captured him early. As the drummer for several bands, Steve was always the more grounded, business-minded performer who, while saying little, made sure people got the point.
With his long, straight jet-black hair, distinctive right-cheek beauty mark and blue Corvette, he was also very popular with the girls.
Yet Steve was never too cool for school.I was 10, he was 12, when we met. I didn’t play an instrument, but I had a keen interest in all kinds of music, particularly rock and roll. When I was 15, Steve invited me along on gigs and vacations to Long Beach Island. I got to be a roadie.
While many of us ran with a crew from 64th Street — literally up the block from his house — Steve kept busy rehearsing, mingling with people in the business, planning his next move.
As the years passed, he added lava lamps, incense and other funky items to boost business at his Anderson Avenue store. Using his sharp acumen, he produced CDs for dozens of performers and bands — and even got Scott Muni to do a little cross-promotion with him on the WNEW veteran’s “Things From England” radio show.
“I love it,” Steve once said. “Otherwise I wouldn’t be doing it.”
Before long, pop found a place in a space that Steve expanded by buying the vacated gift shop next door. And despite the advent of digital downloads, he still did steady business selling CDs.
“It’s the best value,” he would say.
Like Johnny Dirt, another indie icon who passed on last year, Steve Lenge has a place in American music history. He truly was a pioneer.
Requiescat in pacé, my friend ….
TRIBUTES: Loving remembrances mount as we approach our final goodbyes to Steve Lenge, a North Jersey icon whose life was snuffed when he crossed the paths of two out-of-control speeders as he headed to a sidejob at the Meadowlands.
Among the tributes are one by a fellow rock-and-roll traveler who owes Steve a great debt.
Another is from Steve’s most trusted employee at the Things From England record shop in Cliffside Park:
A FAN WRITES: One of my friends just forwarded me “Tribute to Things From England owner, indie pioneer: Steve Lenge” from CLIFFVIEW PILOT today. You hit the nail on the head. Not only was he an indie music pioneer — he was also a local legend. I was devastated this morning when I heard the news.
I first met Steve when I was 12 years old and huge into heavy metal. Things From England was THE store to go to for one-of-a-kind music imports. I practically grew up in that store.
Steve was the type of person who got to know his customers. He knew what I liked, how my tastes changed and what I wanted. I will never forget the first thing I bought from him – a Slayer “Angel of Death” picture disc that he procured from God-only-knows where. READ MORE….