Interview: William “Tragedy” Yager Adds the Fuze Box to His Tragic Empire
It’s 7:50AM on a Friday, and Tragedy is on the move.
I am at Patsy’s Barber Shop in downtown Albany to interview William Yager, known exclusively by just about everybody in Albany as “Tragedy”. Though he already owns an established set of businesses, aka the Tragic Empire, (Patsy’s, the Bull and Bee Meadery, a couple of tattoo shops, and a laundromat), it is his latest venture that I am here to speak to him about. Tragedy has bought the Fuze Box, a nightclub that held court on lower Central Avenue for the last 20 years. Before its successful incarnation as the Fuze Box, it housed the legendary punk club the QE2 from 1986 to 1999.
Those meeting Tragedy for the first time may be initially taken aback. He is visually intimidating, heavily bearded, and even more heavily inked. He is “of the street”, having literally grown up on Lark Street in the 80s, and you know that within 30 seconds of meeting him. It is absolutely his core identity, but additional traits quickly shine through as well. Tragedy is working – constantly, intensely. In the first 15 minutes that I am with him, he has checked his truck for a tire leak, opened up his barbershop, gotten a coffee, considered turning an old bank upstairs into a goth club, and touched base with the Mountain Thunder Motorcycle Festival happening down in the Catskills. And he’s just getting started.
He is also a very smart man. Street smart to be sure, but much more than that. An obviously savvy businessman, he navigates the worlds of local politics and finance seemingly effortlessly. He knows what’s going on – outside his door, around the city, around the country – and connects those dots into his own unique worldview. He is by no means “PC”, but is as authentically enlightened a person as you are likely to meet. You underestimate him at your own peril.
So why is he making this his latest project? Tragedy was a near-daily fixture at the QE2 and later christened the Fuze Box. Like many others, the punk club became a home – a place for music, friends, and family. Most importantly, it was a place to belong. “If nobody does this, then the developers are going to get it. And Jimmie and Al came back to me one last time and said ‘We want you to have it’”, he said, referring to previous owners Jimmie O’Toole and Al Famiano. “I opened the Fuze Box in the back of the old Power Company, it was amazing. We had so much fun…too much fun actually. I knew they were going to buy the old QE2 from Char (Shortsleeve). I said ‘Don’t put the Fuze Box over there. This is a fad… this is cocktail culture, bossanova, martini glasses, swingers. This will be over. That’s a punk rock venue.’”
And punk rock is very, very important to Tragedy. After a short ride uptown, we walk through the club. He reminisces at every corner. While it’s clear he relishes the good times that were had there, it’s the meaning of the place that he keeps coming back to. Every sticker, every piece of graffiti – he knows who put it there, and has a personal connection to it. “I want it to be a memorial”, he says. He lists out close friends and family that had close ties to the place, that have since passed. He mentions the possibility of a memorial wall. He also wants it to be a rotating showcase for art, but warns “Don’t complain to me when your artwork gets tagged two days later. I’m all about the art but this is still a punk club”. He continues, “So while it’s a museum and a memorial for all us old fuckers, we still have to give the kids a place to become us. I’m just holding it for the next set of people that come after me. That’s how I look at it.”
Coming back to his work ethic, Tragedy hauls a somewhat suspect looking ladder out of his truck to begin inspecting the wiring in the ceiling. “I’m not a guy who will throw out a single working power cord. That’s not me.” While he’s doing that, his new neighbor from the building next door stops by, clearly “feeling out” the new owner. Yager instantly befriends him, turns the conversation to some mutually annoying vines between the buildings, and assures him “I’ll be the best fucking neighbor you ever had.” And means it. Everybody who walks by on lower Central that morning knows him, or soon will.
Though reverent toward it, he’s not blinded by the past. He’s aware of the challenges he faces in this endeavor. Regarding the violence currently plaguing Albany, “This end of Central, you’re all right. Nothing really happens down here. It’s mostly from Henry Johnson on up you have to worry about.” He points out that the lot directly across Washington Avenue is free parking after 5:00. He’s familiar with the other music venues around but sees the reconstituted Fuze Box as filling a gap on the Albany music scene. “It’s a 130 person room. I’m too small to compete with what’s going on in the bigger rooms, but the kids today, today’s punk rockers still need a place like this.”
As to what it will be named: “Because I named the Fuze Box, I feel a sense of ownership to that”, he says. When discussing the marquee, however, he indicates he wants some reference to the QE2 on it as well. At the moment, his primary focus is on cleaning the place and sorting out what parts of the sound systems are still working. He wants to be open by Halloween but is considering having a couple of events leading up to that to try to raise some funds. “I’m pretty leveraged to do this”, he says. “Now we need everybody to come out. And I know they will.”
So will it work? Can the Fuze Box, and with it the ghost of the QE2, rise again to become the heart of the Albany punk scene? I don’t know. I do know that there is not a single person in the world who has a better chance at succeeding than Tragedy. Referring to the previous incarnation of the Fuze Box, Tragedy said “Since they bought it, the QE2 had been leaking through the walls, coming back to what it was originally the whole time.” That’s what’s happening here. Anybody else would be coming in from the outside trying to make this work and would fail. With Tragedy, it’s just the punk rock leaking in through the walls and the floor again.
“I want this to be the countercultural community center. That’s what I want this to be,” he says.
See you there.