Saturday, September 28, 2013

Life at the NYN ranch, NYC, October 78

In which we dig deep, with a help from a friend, into life at the NYN loft, the people and Tribeca’s desolate landscape in the late 70’s.

the photographer in a self-portrait at the loft

About a month ago my friend Mattus (Martin Simons), above in a self portrait at the ranch, send me a manila envelope from Hamburg, with almost 400 black and white negatives. He took these on a trip he made to New York in October 1978. All pictures in this series are taken by Martin Simons, unless otherwise noted. Above in a self portrait at the ranch. Some of the negatives are damaged by water, which gives them another level of wabi sabi or should we call it patina? Whatever you prefer. They represent one unique period of about 2 weeks, a group of people spilled into the raw space of late 70's lower Manhattan by the world wide movement of punk, a specific moment were everything seemed possible when, nobody could stop you, when you went ahead with a head full of steam.

Below the author pissing in a river, not.

the author doesn't look back
trucks loading in the neighborhood

 The loft or as Aid Haid called it the ranch, was in 474 Greenwich St at the corner of Canal Street, the upper left hand corner of the triangle that is called Tribeca (triangle between, Canal, West Side Hwy and Broadway), which used to be a warehouse and manufacturing area, but was becoming more and more desolate during the 70's,

..until artists and musicians moved in. 474 Greenwich housed 5 bands and more rehearsing and included Richard Hell & The Voidoids, Rhys Chatham, The Communists and the New York Niggers, all kinds of rock'n roll and some that wasn't rolling, No Wave, classical avant-garde, punk and prog.

Looking down from the fire escape onto Canal St with the Holland Tunnel around the corner.

 The NYN shared the fourth floor with the Communists next door. The loft was 2 200 sqf, one room with a stage at one end, a small kitchen in the entrance, windows with a firescape on the other end looking east. Greenwich St was two blocks from the crumbling and closed elevated West side Hwy and the Hudson River. The rent was $ 375 a month.

The loft during a NYN show.

NYN was founded by Aid Haid (Elliot Harris) and The Pope (Leo Faison), who both hailed from upstate NY. Aid was the first person I met in New York (At CB's, more on this here), and the NYN put me up when I ran out of money and got kicked out of Holly's Hotel. You can read the story of how Leo and I  re-formed the band, sans Aid.

Aid Haid in his loft bed. The writer below

Leo Faison (The Pope) with mirrored pick guard Gibson SG

While Mattus visited, Ruediger another German friend also dropped by the ranch in October of 1978. These photos represent a very limited, but candid glimpse at the characters and life of a group of fledgling musicians and their friends. The version of the band you'll see in this pictures was a short lived lineup of the band that would evolve continuously for the next year and a half with Leo and me the only constants.

The writer, Loos Tooloose, the Pope, Iolsta Hat.

Tony & Ruediger

The energy of NYN and the openess of the ranch attracted many visitors, fans, family and hangers on, including a very young Jean Michel Basquiat, who used to sit on the edge of the stage during rehearsals. Tony, above, was a frequent visitor and we hung out for a while. 

The view towards the East, Canal St, etc.

During this time I was basically broke, occasionally I worked cleaning a carpenter shop or other odd jobs, selling stuff on Canal St, and once in a while making a couple of $$ from a gig at CBGB's or Max's. 

fridge at the ranch.

There wasn't much of a cooking culture at the ranch, like I was used to in the communes I had lived in in Germany. Whenever I had some money I cooked a meal for everyone, for which I turned off the TV, which never lasted very long. Otherwise, everyone was on their own food wise, mostly eating fast food takeouts. Sometimes my meal consisted of a pack of MM's. My friends sold my equipment in Germany and send me money and during their visit I probably ate a little better.

Mattus on the fire escape.

The writer playing guitar on the fire escape.

The fire escape was our balcony and a popular hangout, it was also used during parties to get on the roof, where people sometimes made out during parties on hot summer nights to return with a tarred back.

Basically, the life at the ranch evolved around the couch and the tv which was on 24/7 except when we rehearsed or when I was the last to go to bed and turned it of. We did rehearse pretty much every day and so did all the other bands. Since the boards between floors had 1" wide spaces one could hear even talk between floors, so everybody knew everybody songs. Yet, there was agreement that we stopped at 10 PM except for parties or weekend jams, when everybody was invited of course.

Iolsta Hat
jamming next door with Bob from the Communists.

The Communists were a great band, a very artistic approach, good songs and a rocking sound, but when when Bob and Iolsta broke up, so did the band. Iolsta (voc) and Bob (guit) were the main writers and Loos Tooloose their bass player. Their drummer, an artist lived in the loft below. This is how Loos and Iolsta ended up playing with NYN for a while. During this period George Darrow was our drummer. George was playing with Steve Di Marzio in a band called the Mighty Minds.

The writer during rehearsal with George Darrow.

The writer during rehearsal.
As I said, we were rehearsing most days roughly from 7 - 10 PM. Here a few more shots.

These shots show the spirit of our music and the fun we had, even during rehearsals. A bit of posing might be going on too. I did all the graffiti in the loft.

There was an old hand-operated freight elevator in the building and if it wasn't on your floor you just yelled down, or up, the elevator shaft and someone would bring it, or you had to knock on their door and occasionally one just had to wait if nobody was home. Here Tony is sitting on an amp ready to be loaded into the elevator, which is on the right with a green leopard print door.

The West Side Hwy had collapsed in December 71 at 14th St from the weight of a dumb truck  and would eventually be demolished in 1989. You could just go up there and walk or ride your bike for miles from Lower Manhattan up.

A view from the West Side Hwy towards Wall St. This is all build up now. Where the buildings begin is Greenwich St. The NYN ranch is to the left a few blocks up.

The Market diner was a classical American diner open all day and night, were we occasionally had an omelette. It was just a few blocks from the ranch and is viewed here from the elevated highway.

Today still,  the Staten Island Ferry is one of the best inexpensive things to do. It takes off from Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan. 

Staten Island Ferry

The author with lollipop the ferry.

Canal Street is a major crosstown artery connecting New Jersey (Holland Tunnel) and Brooklyn (Manhattan Bridge) were a canal was dug in the early 19th century to drain the the contaminated and disease ridden Collect Pond into the Hudson River and filled back in in 1811. It constitutes the southern border of Soho, the northern barrier of Tribeca and separates Little Italy in the North from Chinatown in the south. Its cheaper rents still allow many funky, industrial, jewelry and knick knack stores. It housed the original Canal Jean with its $ 2 bins outside, Pearl Paint, a flea market and many things you'd never thought of.

Shopping on Canal Street. Looking West.  Imagine the NYN loft all the way in the back. Middle background, the Canal St post office. 

In front of Trash & Vaudeville

Standing in front of Trash, where I would be working in about another year from the moment the picture was taken. I am wearing my Addidas, black leather pants and Vivienne Westwood sweater, all of which I had come with from Germany. Any new clothes that  I bought  by this time came from Canal St for $ 2 or so, like the white dinner jacket you see in some shots.

 Patti Smith played a Halloween show at CBGB's that year and gave away these RR Nigger buttons, referring to her song of that name. There are people who say that Patti knew Leo and that he inspired the song. I never heard this from Leo. I believe that it is the other way around and that her song inspired the name of the band, the song and the New York Dolls of course.

The author with $ 2 white dinner jacket and RR Nigger button.

Leo and Aid had build some loft beds and I slept like this. There were no separate rooms or any other divisions in the loft, so everything was more or less in the open, which of course was great for our big parties.

The author sleeping

Thrown into a completely different culture wasn't always easy and my financial situation didn't help any. There were many rough moments and writing letters and making collages helped me express my feelings during hard and lonely moments. Some of my writing was published in Hollow Skai's No Fun Magazine, in Cult Magazine and later the book Wir Waren Helden Fuer Einen Tag (see older blogs).  Germany was going through a dark period during the later part of the seventies culminating in what was called the German Fall in 1977. So, besides the rough times, I never felt the urge to go back to Germany.

 48th St between 6th and 7th Ave housed a row of music stores. It was an amazing place. Each store filled with pictures of all the musicians who shopped there. One of the best places was the Manny's used guitar store pictured here. When you walked in you stood in a fenced in area with a little opening through which the guitar you were interested in was handed to you. This was still the seventies. NY was a different place then. Fred Smith from Television worked here. In this picture Tony and I are looking at the guitars, even at these prices completely unaffordable for me. Tony is wearing her trademark karate jacket and Bowler hat. Tony was interesting. She wouldn't tell me what her father was doing, supposedly some kinda secret agent job.

Tony and the author on 48th St.

There were not to be any longer relationships during my first years in NY and I have no idea who is holding my hand...

...walking down La Guardia Place towards Soho. Let me know if you can enlighten me. 
There will be at least one more post with Mattus' pics, a lot more great shots from the ranch, a party and people, downtown characters of this time. I hope that looking at them will continue to bring up memories and maybe pull some of you, who were there, out of the wood works to share your experiences. For those of you who were not there, tell me what you want to know. Until then remember that you can't put your arms around a memory. 

it doesn't pay to try, all the smart boys know why, ... Johnny Thunders

Aloha, dieter

1 comment:

A. A. Ron said...

Great article. How many copies of the original 7" did you press? And more importantly, Are there any other recordings at all of NYN out there?