NYC in the early '80s was not the beautiful city it is today. It was a slime pit. It was cruel, filthy, squalid and rank with the odor of desperation. In the East Village, where I grew up (or actually avoided growing up) the sidewalks were thoroughly dotted with faded globs that might have been chewed gum or dried spit, or maybe something else that I never really cared to identify. There was trash everywhere, and a walk down the street at any time of the day or night involved junkies begging for change and homeless people sleeping on sidewalks. Once I was walking down Eighth Street and I watched a young woman walk into a doorway, pull her pants down, squat slightly forward, and let lose a stream of piss in the direction of the door (her pubic hair was facing me). Another time I watched a disheveled man relieve his bowels between two parked cars as I sat at an outdoor cafe. Once, walking home in the early morning hours, I saw a dog lying dead on the curb. It's ear had been shot off.
To anyone who did not grow up in this type of squalor it sounds horrible, oppressive and disgusting. But I just considered it my home, my world. I'd lived there most of my young life, and didn't really know anything else. Oh, I'd been to the pristine New Jersey suburbs, enough to know I could never live there. New York City, and specifically the East Village, was my bailiwick. At the time, I could not imagine myself living anywhere else.
I'd lived on Saint Marks place throughout my teens in the early '70s. The music scene there was what we would now call Glam Rock or Glitter Rock. It was the time of Iggy Stooge (who later became Iggy Pop), the Velvet Underground, and David Bowie. Men in the scene were androgynous, women were caught up in heroin chic (in their look at least, if not in their use of the substance). Disco raged across the rest of the world. Blocks away in Greenwich Village Hippie Country and Folk were still king; but the East Village was all about The New York Dolls and Lou Reed. It was the earliest incarnation of what by '76 would be called Punk Rock.
Time marches on. I went off to university ninety miles upstate (it was so clean there!), and returned in the winter of '79. I'd missed the early Punk scene in the East Village, the Ramones and the CBGBs bands (Talking Heads, Blondie, Television). I'd been part of that scene at school, but missed the type of immersion in it that residents of the East Village had known. But now it was 1979, turning to 1980, and I was back.
The winter of '79-80 was freezing. Record cold was reported in NYC. I was homeless for a good part of that winter, couch surfing between my brother, a couple of fellow musicians, a neurotic prostitute, an ex girlfriend, and the sister of a girlfriend, and living for a short time in a transient hotel, until I finally got an apartment on 12th and A (through a Punk girl I was sleeping with who was cheating on her BF, and who had learned from her BF that there was an apartment opening up in his building, so I ended up living down the hall from, you guessed it, her BF...life was simply like that in the East Village). It was a two room tenement that was divided by a wall with a window in it into the “kitchen” (which also contained the bathroom, shower, and a spare bed) and the “not kitchen” or bedroom. I lived there alone at times, and at other times with a gorgeous Punk girl named Carol (my friend and confidant, but never my lover). Rents were not what they are today: I moved in to the place at $135/month. In the four years or so that I lived there it went up to $156 (which I could barely afford). I imagine if that tenement apartment is even still there, it must go for $1200 or more now.
CBGBs was no longer the place by 1980. The club, still a sleezepit on Bowery, was attracting a lot of Bridge-and-Tunnel types after its heyday in '76. The bands now were mostly local New Wave and Reggae groups. Not cutting edge, more like reliving the cutting edge of four years earlier. Some of the scene had moved to Max's Kansas City, a club in Gramercy where Andy Warhol had hung out for most of the '70s. The Ritz on 9th street, a very large ballroom style hall, had commercial bands on the weekends, but had cool bands on a Monday or Tuesday: I saw Madness, Siouxie and the Banshees, Richard Hell, Lydia Lunch, The Rockats, The Slits, and Bow Wow Wow there, to name a few (and that's Bow Wow Wow, not Li'l Bow Wow, you moron).
But by '81, the real Underground Hardcore Punk scene was centered around tiny after hours clubs. The one I frequented the most was on Seventh and A, called (in what must have been a particularly unimaginative naming session) A7. The place opened after midnight, and showed six or seven bands a night, closing at five or six in the morning. The bands that played there are legendary now, but at the time they were just kids playing music: The Beastie Boys, The Stimulators, The Cro-Mags, The Undead, Reagan Youth, The Young And The Useless, The Misfits, The Bad Brains, The Moppy Skuds (whose members later became Luscious Jackson: photo left), Even Worse, and Agnostic Front. The Plasmatics hung out there, as did Billy Idol (yes, I hung out with them, and no, it was no big deal to do so back then). The place was tiny, smelly, crowded and disgusting. There was a small bar as you entered from Seventh Street, and past that a few booths with the pleather torn and the stuffing coming through. Then there was the stage area, which maybe held an audience of twenty comfortably: fifty would cram themselves in there and do the dance we called HB-ing and you call Moshing.
Like most bars in the East Village in the '80s, age or proper ID were seldom factors in being served. A7 served alcohol to girls I knew to be as young as 13. So did other bars; a Ukrainian old man bar on Saint Marks Place was a common hangout, as was the Pyramid Club on Avenue A. People drank a lot in the scene, but there was seldom any violence or drama. Most people just drank, HB-ed, and listened to (or played) music. I only saw one fight at A7, ever, between Billy Idol and a sort of creepy guy who pretended to have an English accent and claimed to have played with the Beatles (he was from Long Island and was just about reaching puberty while the Beatles were breaking up). Creepy boy spit beer in Billy's face, so I did not blame the rock star for decking the guy. Although I'm sure you can guess who had to take creepy boy home and make sure he didn't have a concussion... yes, that's right, me. Creepy boy was actually a fairly decent drummer by the way, when he wasn't spitting beer in the faces of rock stars. Anyway, after the Hardcore shows we would all go to one of three Ukrainian restaurants for dawn breakfast: Leshkos or Odessa, both on Avenue A, or The Kiev on Second Ave. The waitresses were all cute underage Ukrainian nymphets who hardly spoke English, and the food was cheap. Sunday at dawn Leshko's was a who's who of Hardcore Punk.
In those days I had a sort of double identity (like a secret agent). I would dress in a crisp cowboy shirt and a neatly folded neck bandana at seven or so, and go off to New Jersey to play Country music with bands like the New York Frets. Then I would return to Manhattan at one or two in the morning, change into a torn cowboy shirt and a grubby neck bandana, and head over to A7 to hear The Beastie Boys and Agnostic Front.
On the home front, I was in a band at the time called Mara, who played at A7 with some regularity. Mara did tribal dark Gothic music long before there was a market for it. We had a manic drummer and a guitarist who actually played in tune once. I played bass, and we had a hot singer who I should have appreciated more but who came off a little too suburban for me at the time (I never make any secret about the fact that I was an idiot as a young man). Later the band got a new singer, a blindingly beautiful Punk girl named Diana, who sang about castrating deserving men (she was adorable), and we changed our name to Black Widow (no relation to my Goth Girl song, written a decade or so later). The photo here is of myself and drummer Patrick in Mara, playing at A7 in '82. (Patrick was an awesome drummer, and a great guy).
Around that time ('81-ish) a guy named Dave Parsons and his girlfriend Cathy came to NYC from Boca Raton, Florida. They opened a record shop and distribution outlet at 171 venue A beneath a local recording studio, called Rat Cage Records, and published a fanzine which they named for their former Florida home, Mouth Of The Rat. (The issue of MOTR pictured here shows Janet Whitehouse on the cover, as I recently learned from some excellent follow up e-mail). Rat Cage Records released some of the first and most influential Hardcore Punk records, including the first Beastie Boys EP Pollywog Stew (which was later released on Capitol Records as Some Old Bullshit). Most of the recordings were done just upstairs at 171 Studios. Rat Cage and 171 became the daytime hangout for many the Hardcore kids. You could walk into Rat Cage pretty much any afternoon and find members of the Beastie Boys, Luscious Jackson, The Bad Brains and The Cro Mags hanging out. The Bad Brains often lived upstairs in the recording studio when they were not living on my kitchen floor (my model-beautiful room mate was, um, 'dating' the bassist, and 'dating' is simply a euphemism for 'giving blow jobs to:' I would often come home to find him in her bed with the rest of the band passed out on my floor. All of this happened in the 'other room' of my two-room tenement apartment, which was the kitchen/studio/bathroom).
Rat Cage founder Dave Parsons was a brilliant character, who became well known in the East Village scene not only for MOTR and Rat Cage Records, but also for wearing his GF's dresses while recklessly skateboarding along Avenue A, narrowly avoiding drag queen death under the wheels of speeding cars. (I hear he later became a woman, Donna, and moved to New Orleans).
Speaking of Mouth Of The Rat, Fanzines sprang up all over the Hardcore scene, exhibiting a squalid character only possible in the days before desktop publishing. There were a dozen floating around the East Village: Noise News (left), Cheap Garbage, Big City; the 'zine at the top of this post, Decline of Art, was put out by the local NYHC girls, including Jill Cunniff, Kate Schellenbach, Rebecca Scanlon and Sarah Cox, among others.
For me, this idyllic existence lasted about four years. As I said above, time marches on. Rat Cage Records and 171 Studio were closed down by the health department for lacking fire exits (no real surprise to anyone). The owner of A7 absconded with any and all funds and left the place closed down. The East Village was gentrified, after a police scandal involving “clearing out” Tompkins Square Park by bashing the heads of Punks, homeless people and a few waitresses and reporters (the captain who ordered the action retired on full pension before charges could be brought up, leaving his lieutenant to take all of the heat). My roommate who 'dated' Bad Brains' bassist Darryl married a normal guy, moved to Brooklyn and had a bunch of kids. Her best friend, also a frequent guest at Chez Klein, moved to England and became a well known photographer. I speak to her frequently. I myself went on the road playing original music in '86, and never returned to live in NYC for any length of time.
I sometimes say I'm the only one of my friends from that scene that is now not either dead or famous. I'm sometimes amazed at the number of 'kids' from among our friends that went on to achieve fame. The Beastie Boys broke up, reformed, broke up, reformed, and became the rap group everyone now knows and worships. Two of the underage drinking girls from the Moppy Skuds, and the original founder and drummer of the Beastie Boys, formed Luscious Jackson and became amazingly famous (and still beautiful and stylish, as they had always been). Another Moppy Skud is Arrabella Field, the actress. Yet another of that band was the first solo female to circumnavigate the world. The Cro Mags and the Bad Brains are still touring.
A few did not make it. My close friend at the time, Bobby, was sentenced to life in prison after a drug deal gone bad that involved a murder (which I'm pretty certain was self defense). Another friend, a girl I was kinda sweet on, went to England and got stabbed during a drug deal. She died over there. Heroin killed a lot of Hardcore Punks, as did the lifestyle we led. Johnny Thunders, Stiv Baters, Dave (Donna) Parsons...the list of those that did not survive NYC Hardore is a long and impressive one.
From NOLA, and once upon a time from NY/HC, this is Kenny Klein explaining it all.