In which I arrive on 42nd Street via the Boulevard Montparnasse, Portobello Road, a $99 flight and two days later, go straight to Rock'n Roll Heaven.
Getting kicked out of Rotz Kotz fulfilled chapter 1 of my original plan to start a band within 6 month or leave Hannover So it had worked out and then it stopped. After just around the 6-month back in Hannover I had played at the Documenta and had some wild times with Rotz Kotz.
|Yes, we had one big bed. Mattus, Ulli, the author.|
Meanwhile I was working as a taxi driver 4/5 nights a week, hardly ever seeing the daylight during the winter. By the spring of 78 I was ready for a change. I had gotten my US visa and my communards Mattus, Ulli and I went to Paris with Ulli’s Renault 4 to hang out for the 10th anniversary of the May 68.
|Renault 4 web pic.|
|Inside R4. Check out the shifter. You pulled and pushed and turned the handle. The Citroen 2CV had a similar one.|
|May 68 slogan, under the pavement, the beach.|
The R4 was a cheap no nonsense car just like the Citroen deux-cheveux; both had small engines. Plastic Bertrand’s Ca Plane Pour Moi (it works out for me) was a huge hit at the time and played on every jukebox in Paris. Plastic Bertrant was indeed plastic a studio produced song, no band, but completely infectious. I believe the artist and producer are still in courts today trying to decide who actually sang on the record, kinda like Milli Vanilli (if you must) in the 90’s. Milli Vanilli was a psychedelic disco in Hannover in 1969. ha-ha! Yes, I needed to leave. The Ramones had come out with their second album in 1977. It was called Leave Home.
After three or four days in Paris I bade good bye to my comrades and hitched to Calais to take the ferry across the channel. I got to London in the evening and tried to call the # of a woman I had met in Berlin a few months ago. No answer, so I drifted around the city all night long. I was wearing black leather pants, a black double breasted suit jacket from my dad and didn’t real carry any luggage, just a small canvas bag ca 18” square. Once the morning hit I made my way to the flea market in Portobello Road. I bought a big X Ray Spex button and added it to my Patti Smith button.
It started to rain and didn’t stop. There was still no answer at my friends #. I was getting soaked and with no idea what to do I decided to just make it to the airport. Laker Airways was happening at this time. It existed since 66 but in 77 Laker Airways became the first long haul, low cost, no frills, no food, who needs it anyway, airline and flew from London Gatwick to New York’s JFK for $ 99. There were no reservations whatsoever. You just went to the airport and got on the next available flight. I bought a bottle of Sherry and got on the flight, my clothes still wet. A minute before the doors were closed two black models sat down next to me.
When we got to New York the bottle was empty, I was drunk and had a fever. It took me two hours to get through immigration and customs, no place to stay, one-way ticket, didn’t know anyone, but I made it. It was the 5th of May 1978. I guess back then NY was happy if anyone visited. It was run down, nearly bankrupt and dangerous. The bus dropped me off at 1st Ave and 38th St. Without a plan I was drawn uptown and west, eventually getting to Times Square and 42nd Street. Then, this was the center of sleaze, drugs, prostitution, porno-theatres, peepshows, illegal gambling, etc. I was tired, hadn’t really slept since Paris, and sick with fever, but all the hotels I encountered between 38th St and Times Square seemed to be full, or so they said. I kept walking until I found a narrow staircase leading up to Hollies’ Hotel on 8th Ave and 48th St. It was $10 a night and I think I was the only white person there. I could touch the walls with my outstretched hands, the bathroom and a filthy group shower was in the hall. First I didn’t think I could sleep there with all the cockroaches, strange smells and the violent sounds coming from the other rooms, but soon crashed and stayed in bed for two days, just going to the convenient store downstairs to get some orange juice.
|This clip is the other side of the Lou Reed clip below. Just happened to be about 42nd St.|
My first day up and out in NY happened to be the last night of the three day Johnny Blitz Benefit at CBGB’s. Johnny Blitz was the drummer for the Dead Boys who had relocated from Cleveland. He got seriously stabbed in the East Village. This is described in detail in Legs McNeil/Gillian Mc Cain’s, Please Kill Me (pg 314-18). The Dead Boys were styled after the Pistols and had a classic punk anthem with 77’s Sonic Reducer. Their lead singer Stiff Bator was a huge Iggy fan and at the end of every gig at CB’s he would throw a mike chord over some pipes and perform a mock hanging. He od’d in 1990.
Bands like Patti Smith, Television, The Ramones and Talking Heads all had one or several albums out by then and were playing bigger venues. Blondie was on their way to become a huge pop band and Television had already disbanded. For the Blitz benefit many of these artists came back to CB’s and played, each night going nonstop from 8:00 PM on until late.
|Johnny Blitz Benefit Band List|
|Debbie Harry, Chris Stein, Robert Fripp at the Johnny Blitz benefit. May 7th 1978|
|Outside CB's. David Johannsen, left, Joe Ramone, 4th from left. late 70's|
The place was packed and I found some space on top of the jukebox were I stayed until the last band finished sometime at three or four in the morning. Two days after I arrived in NY I had gone to Rock’n Roll heaven.
I didn’t know a soul in NY so I just cruised Manhattan during the day in Baudelaire fashion and went to CBGB’s at night, hang out and watched bands. The second Television album Adventure had just come out, and I bought the cassette and a cheap player, the Walkman wouldn’t come to Europe and the US until 1980. There I was, cruising 42nd St holding a cassette player to my head, listening to Foxhole.
|Cover of Televison's 2nd LP. from left: Fred Smith, Richard Lloyd, To Verlaine, Billy Ficca.|
|The Ramones: Johnny, Tommy, Joey, Dee Dee|
My first trip out of Manhattan took me to Rockaway Beach following the Ramones song. Another purchase I made during my early NY days was Patti Smith’s book Babel, which I still have today. These yellowed newspaper ads are still folded in it.
|Newspaper clips May 1978|
|Max's Kansas City ad. May 78.|
The first person I really met, at CBGB's, was Aid Haid (Elliot Harris) one of the founding members of the New York Niggers. I was always one of the first people there because I just didn’t know what else to do once the evening hit. Aid was sitting at the next table and friendly and open as he was, invited me to go see their band the following Saturday at their loft on Greenwich and Canal St on Manhattan’s West side. This area, Tribeca (the triangle below Canal St) is ultra upscale and expensive now, but was a virtual wasteland back then with just some of the old factory buildings, still housing business, while artists had moved into others and the rest stood empty. At night it was mostly deserted. I don’t remember the other band that played but the Niggers just rocked. Aid and another black guy (The Pope/Leo Faison) played guitar and took turns singing. They had a hippyish bass player and a Japanese drummer with double bass drums, who called himself Wolf 1. The last song was the the Stooges Search & Destroy, which used to be Rotz Kotz’s last song also. Probably any other punk band on the planet played it, because whenever there was a jam everyone would know it. At the end of the song The Pope threw his Gibson SG straight up in the air, and stepped off the stage, the guitar crashing down behind him. It looked completely nonchalant, not like Pete Townsend at all. Around 5:00 AM someone woke me up and said that the party was over.
A few days later I ran into the Pope and Aid at CB’s and I asked them if I could come to one of their rehearsals. That was the beginning of our friendship and when a few weeks later I run out of money and got kicked out of Hollies’ Hotel, it was the New York Niggers who rescued me and let me stay with them in their 2 000 sq’ loft. They had a gig coming up and I offered to roadie for them. It was in a hair-cutting place right on Saint Mark’s place. On the last song, Search & Destroy, Aid gave me his guitar and just sang lead. This collage is from that gig. The Pope is playing lying on the floor, Aid is singing, Wolf in the back and I am on the right. The first time playing in New York and on hallowed grounds, just a few doors down from were the VU and Andy Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable was happening 10 years earlier.
|The New York Niggers playing St Mark's Place June 78|
One of the first things I realized quickly going to the benefit and hanging out at CBGB's and Max's every day was that there was not the same separation of music as in Germany and maybe England, where Punk was more narrowly defined and had an urge to look down on other music. NY was more inclusive and welcome to a broader variety of bands. Just look at the diversity of the first generation CB's bands, Televison, Patti Smith, Richard Hell & The Voidoids, Ramones, Blondie, Talking Heads, Suicide. Suicide was an amazing, unique 2 piece that went its own way and is still very underrated also for its influence. They were able to clean out a place quickly sometimes.
|Martin Rev, Alan Vega of Suicide on CB's stage|
|This Ramones on stage with audience at CB's|
These two pictures give you a good idea of the low stage and the space around it. When you stood on stage like Joe above, there was the ca 30'x'30 floor in front of you, a long bar on the left, some tables, juke boxes and pool table on the right and the door to the Bowery in the distance. In an essay called CBGB as a Physical Space Richard Hell describes the decor as the "fantastic, ghostly, jewel-smear-for-walls of a palace-for-fun-seeking children" ... "so good looking that it hurts." My arrival and first weeks in NY. Next time, I join the New York Niggers and talk about more my NY adventures.
|The dressing room directly behind the stage, the kitchen in the previous place. It was open just like this. You walked by it on your way to the bathroom.|
|Stairs to the bathroom|
|Richard Hell is still alive. graffiti in the bathroom.|
|Patti Smith Babel. back cover.|
Patti Smith, Babel, Putnam's, NY, 1978.
Legs Mc Neil, Gillian Mc Cain, Please Kill Me, The uncensored oral history of punk, Penguin Books.
Charles Baudelaire, Paris Spleen, New Directions, NY, 1970
William Burroughs, Naked Lunch, Speed, Junkie, any of these will get you into the scene. William Burroughs lived also on the Bowery and could be called somewhat of a spiritual father of NY punk, besides the VU and Dolls of course. He was certainly one of the things that made me go, and the hard-boil detective novels I read as a teenager.
Blondie with Robert Fripp at the Blitz benefit, doing NY Dolls Jet Boy
This New York Dolls song is about Aerosmith's Steven Tyler, who did steal David Johanssen's girlfriend. The Dolls were equals to Aerosmith at a time. Blondie doing Jet Boy and jamming with Robert Fripp shows their roots and also the attractiveness of the whole CBGB's scene by this time to other musicians.
Richard Hell talks about the East Village apartment he lives in since 1975. My friend and bassplayer Joe Drake lived there too and I lived one block up from 1982 - 1988.
Richard's official website.
Richard Hell, CBGB as a Physical Space, in Sympathy For The Devil, Art and Rock and Roll Since 1967, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2007.
And I just got this from my friend and collaborator William Kelly who directed and edited several of my videos back then. See also the 2008 blogs on this site. William teaches a martial arts lesson to a squirrel in Stuyvesant Town/14th St, where he lives, 47 seconds long. On first view, this might be a little unrelated to this post, but not at all if you know the blog a bit more.