I began by getting off the IRT #1 subway in Greenwich Village, and walking down Christopher Street to Washington Square Park.
Washington Square was once the site of a marshy swamp, and later of a pauper's cemetery. In the days of the Revolution it was used by George Washington as a troop training area, and that's how it got its name. The fountain, above, was built uptown on 59th street, but moved here in the 1870s. Until 1964 the park was simply the arch and the fountain, and Fifth Avenue traffic rambled around it (below). The rest of the park was built in '64. Bob Dylan, Peter Paul and Mary, and Rambling Jack Elliot all played music and sang there in the '60s.
Washington Square before 1964, historic pic from this site.
I learned to play Bluegrass by playing around the Square with some of the best NY musicians, especially Gene Tambor of the Minetta Creek Bluegrass band. Gene and I played from about '76 through the early '80s in a band called the New York Frets. He taught me nearly everything I know about performing. We would play on the streets of Greenwich Village, either in front of the wrought iron fence around the NYU chapel on MacDougal, or near his house on Bleecker St. There were a lot of weird things going on when one busked in those days. Once while we were playing, a guy began dancing. He took off his shoes and danced barefoot. Then he took off his shirt and danced bare-chested. Then he took off his pants, and danced naked. That wasn't the weirdest part. He then walked away, leaving his clothes in a neat pile in front of the band. (I couldn't make this stuff up...).
Of course people still busk in the Square. Most of it is crappy, but sometimes you hear someone really good. Today was a really-good day. I ran into some of my New Orleans busking buddies just outside the fountain area. Lyle (who plays with me in Odd's Bodkin while in New Orleans), Daniel and Jordan do exactly what I do every year, leave NOLA to tour up north. It was just happenstance that we all ended up in NYC today.
Jason Mankey, who was walking around NYC with me for some of today, asked me "how does one learn to play a musical saw?" I told him that, while I imagine there are Youtube videos about it, one just watches other saw players and learns.
Before leaving Washington Square, I had to walk by 27 Washington Square North...
poetry, you know that I've written a ton of poems about a girl named Kate. My CD Little Birds Of Desire is also laced with songs about this mystery girl: Compact, Bonny Kate, and Love Letter To NY are all about her. My reluctant muse Kate grew up right here, on the corner of Washington Square North and MacDougal Street. That was her living room window. The window right above it was that of Luscious Jackson and Moppy Skuds alum Jill Cunniff. The two girls were somewhat inseparable in '81 and '82. My crush on Kate was unrequited, I'm sorry to say. She ended up dating Cro Mags lead screamer/bassist Harley Flannegan, much to my depression and sorrow. Of course, to her credit, I was kind of a jerk in '81.
Jill Cunniff, Luscious Jackson alum, in '82. This was how most of the Hardcore girls looked and dressed, sort of Siouxie Sioux inspired bag-lady chic. Photo by legendary Punk music producer Dave Parsons.
Reluctantly moving on from 27 WSN, I headed down Washington Square North to Astor Place/Cooper Square, home of the Cube. Here are two views of the sculpture that sits at the center of Astor place.
The cube (actually titled The Alamo and created by sculptor Tony Rosenthal in 1967) is a popular tourist site, and if you push it pretty hard it rotates on its axis, a favorite pastime of drunk NYU students. It's also a popular skateboarding hangout, and in '82 there were always a dozen or so skaters tricking around the thing.
Directly across from the Cube is Cooper Union college, one of the best design schools in America. In '82 Punks used to hold a makeshift flea market outside Cooper Union. Dave Parsons, of Rat Cage Records, would sell Punk records off a blanket on the sidewalk, and Punks would sell their old clothes, belts, and records, books and magazines on the sidewalk.
Today there were two kind of normal-looking girls spare-changing there. (I'm used to spare changers looking like, well, spare changers. Usually Crusties...)
I walked down to Saint Marks Place, which in '81 was the hub of NYHC. Here is a pic of Saint Marks in '81, courtesy of Even Worse bass player Rebecca Korbet-Wootton (in center on stairs):
Upstairs is Vaudeville, and downstairs is Trash (see below). It was and is an awesome clothing shop, though a bit pricey. Still, if you visit Saint Marks Place, you ought to stop in there. The girl who worked at Trash and Vaudeville in the late 70s was named Angel. She was an early Punk rocker, skinny to the point of emaciated and pretty hyper. She used to rehearse her Punk band in the shop. The first time I ever shopped at Vaudeville Angel made fun of me because I was using my mom's credit card (hey, I was 15!). We became friends after that.
Here's the downstairs shop, Trash:
The building nest to Trash, the Saint Marks Hotel, is a landmark building, and looms large in the Punk legend. Before the early '70s the building had housed the gay baths. I remember passing the baths in '68 and '69 on my way to shows at the Fillmore East. By the time I moved to the East Village in '72 it had become the hotel. Many Punk notables lived there at one time or another, including Spacely/Gringo, a weird crustie Punk who was often called the "Mayor Of Saint Marks Place." Someone did an indie film about him in around '82, and to promote it they painted a huge billboard of his face over Saint Marks and Third. While there is a legendary Punk presence there, in '82 the Saint Marks Hotel was largely populated by druggies and hookers. There was this one very cute but very strung out little blond hooker with asymmetrical eyes who always asked me if I wanted "a date." Whatever my morality may have been in '82, I never had any money. Poor asymmetrical eyes hooker... Third Ave and Ninth Street was a hooker area then, as was Second and Tenth, so many girls who made a living that way lived in the hotel. Most of the girls were pretty enough (as opposed to street girls since Craig's List made it easy for attractive addicts to hook-from-home). The East Village was pretty squalid back then. Anyway, quite a few of my NYHC friends resided in the Hotel on and off.
Just down the street from the hotel is the Grass Roots Tavern, a Saint Marks landmark.
When I first returned to NYC after my couple of years in college up at New Paltz, I was looking for the Punk scene. My college friend and Punk princess Nicole hung around the Grassroots, and it was there I first met Bobby Bratz, one of my best friends in the NYHC scene. Nicole and I used to drink there (yes, I used to drink) with my high-school-GF-turned-Punk-buddie Alice.
Nicole died in the early '90s (a lot of my friends died...I'm the only one who isn't either dead or famous these days). Alice speaks to me on occasion.
Moving down Saint Marks, we come to the corner of Saint Marks and Second:
This used to be the Saint Marks Theater. In '73 and '74, you could see three movies there for a dollar (my first date with Alice was seeing Woodstock and the Jimi Hendrix movie at that theater. She left in the middle of the date). I saw a lot of art films there, and by '81 they used to do a midnight show of Clockwork Orange, a Hardcore fave. We would all go on Saturday night, then proceed en masse to A7 (I'll be getting to that in a few moments).
Kitty corner across Second Ave is the Orpheum Theater. Stomp has been playing there for as long as I've been around the East Village, maybe since '73. I'm not kidding. This is one thing about the Village that never seems to change.
Moving a few yards down Saint Marks, we come to number 74. My teen-aged home!
Today this is the Kaplan House; when I lived here it was the Stuyvesant Residence Home. Long story which perhaps I'll tell one day... anyway I lived here form around '72-76.
Next door at 78, there lived, in '73, two women who had been former Playboy Bunnies. One had a teen daughter, Kristen if memory serves, who played guitar, so we became buddies. Mom and her friends would throw parties on the roof, and invite the teenaged boys from Stuyvesant residence. Then the women would be topless or nude at the parties. The '70s were a fun era... Kristen's mom would date a lot of the teen boys and move them in when they hit 21 and had to leave the residence home (not me...I was not so lucky. I simply moved in with my girlfriend in the Vassar college dorms).
When you grow up in the squalor and chaos that is the East Village, you really don't know anything else. Now, looking back at my teen years, I often comment to myself "wow, I grew up amidst squalor and chaos!" It's truly not most peoples' teen experience. I really need to write my memoirs someday...
Across the street from Stuyvesant Residence is the Holiday Cocktail Lounge.
In '81, this Ukrainian bar didn't stand much on legal drinking ages (in the Ukraine there is no legal age limit), so they would serve anyone who could pay. The little Punk girls all drank there, and not one of them was 18 just yet. Next door is Stromboli's Pizza, the best pizza in NYC in the '70s and '80s. I went there today and found that they had built tables and chairs (in '81 we stood outside, eating pizza as we leaned against parked cars), and that the pizza had become a bit mediocre... yet still better than anything outside of NYC and Jersey.
Speaking of food, down First Avenue at 11th Street we come to Veniero's Cafe, the BEST Italian pastry cafe in America!! Really.
Since 1894, this place has served delicious Italian pastries. In '81, the front room staff was all Italian school girls, and the dining room staff was all tall, blond Ukrainian girls.Today I was waited on by a young man of nondescript ethnicity, who served me this:
The iced cappuccino is iced with coffee flavor gelato ice cream. OMG!!! It's like a cappuccino milkshake.
Yes, that is a wall of chocolate cake.It extends across the length of the front room, maybe 20 feet. The next case is cheesecakes of all descriptions. Then come the fruit cakes.
Just down twelfth street is my old tenement apartment, where I lived from '79 to about '83. I write about the place a lot...
E 12 st and Avenue A, my home for many years. It was a hideous ghetto then... now it's beautiful.
Those trees were not there in '81.
515 East Twelfth Street. The sew-Top Cleaners was a tax service in '80-83. I lived in the back building. There is a courtyard behind this building, and a smaller building in the back of that. It's a nice arrangement, because the front building muffles the noise from the street, and it's quite peacful back there.
I lived for most of that time with Carol Louderbach. Here's a picture of Carol and her BF Barbara Taylor from around '83:
Carol is the seated six-foot Punk girl. Barbara says Carol's mom was taking the picture, and they couldn't think of anything picturesque to do, so they shook hands. Barbara and I remain friends. She lives in London now with her teenaged daughter. We can't seem to locate Carol. Punks are currently scouring the Earth looking for her, but to no avail. It's a real life mystery. Carol was dating one of the Bad Brains, so I would often come home to find three Bad Brains asleep on my kitchen floor and one in Carol's bed. The Bad Brains were kind of homeless in '82. They mostly lived in the recording studios at 171 Avenue A, where they, the Beastie Boys, the Stimulators and Reagan Youth would all record. Other days it was my kitchen floor.
After visiting 515, I walked across Tompkins Square Park to what used to be A7. On the way I was stopped by this woman. She knew me, mentioned people I knew, that she had just gotten out of jail (intent to incite, I believe, whatever that is), and that she was so glad to see me. I have no idea who this is...
She does have a Baphomet tattoo across her chest... still, I cannot place her.
From the park you can see the building that used to be the center of Hardcore Punk in '82, A7.
The building that used to house A7, seen from the park. A gaggle of Hardcores would hang out here in the park until the doors to A7 opened, usually between midnight and one AM. Then we'd march over in an orderly fashion. Billy Idol used to drink at A7 every night, as did several of the Plasmatics. Bands that played there included the Even Worse, the Moppy Scuds (some of whose members became Luscious Jackson), the Bad Brains, Reagan Youth, the Beastie Boys, the Cro Mags, and the Young Aborigines. I played there regularly with a band called Mara. Here I am in '82 playing on the stage at A7:
Here is the wall art on the building today:
Joe Strummer, immortalized here, was the founder of the Punk band The Clash, as well as a one-time member of Irish Punk-Folk band The Pogues. He was a Punk legend, though he never played at A7.
The NYHC scene was a time and place in pop culture that will never happen again: the time and place was just right, and when it faded it was gone. I am forever grateful to have been a small part of that time and place. The death of Beastie Boy Adam Yauch this year brought a lot of us Punks together on Facebook, and we all ended up recalling those days and comparing stories (and scouring the Earth to search for Carol). Those of us who survived the era have moved on with our lives, but I think we all cherish that moment in time and our places in it. I still write about it a lot. I have a novel I'm finishing up set in NY in '81. I haven't been able to find a publisher just yet, but Jason Mankey assures me I ought to self publish the ebook. Your thoughts?
I return to NYC each year to see what has changed and what has stayed the same. I'll be hanging around the NY area for another few days, then I'll be heading back to Ohio for Starwood, and to upstate NY for the festivals at Brushwood.
From squalid, chaotic NYC, this is Kenny Klein explaining it all.