Most of what I have to say about Television I’ve saved for this project, due out in June, as most of our readers and/or Twitter followers undoubtedly know (#shamelessselfpromotion #seeadontheright). Our students have a couple preview chapters to make their way through this week and may come out knowing more than they ever wanted to about CBGB arcana. Over the last year or so I’ve posted a few related items here: some memories of Club 82, the drag venue on 4th St. that played co-host to early punk alongside CB’s and Max’s. I mentioned some selections from the CBGB jukebox, along with some of Television and Patti’s rival bands. I embedded a clip of Television performing in the Chinatown loft that was their rehearsal space (1974, w/ Richard Hell). For more, stay tuned. I’m sure Cyrus and I will both have plenty to post leading up to the June release date for both our volumes.
Wow. In case you missed this story at the Local East Village yesterday: our friends at Fales Library are acquiring a treasure trove of documentary concert footage and interviews from the heyday of New York punk. I’m wishing I’d had access to these over the last six months while writing about CBGB’s origins, but still glad they’ll be available to future researchers. From the blog:
The Fales Collection at New York University will shortly begin the process of preserving and cataloging an extraordinary video archive of punk and new wave performances known as “Gonightclubbing, Ltd.,” mainly recorded in the nineteen seventies at East Village clubs like CBGB using reel-to-reel video.
The archive is the work of video artists Emily Armstrong and Pat Ivers, and until collected by a team from Fales last week it occupied significant cupboard space in Ms. Armstrong’s apartment. Although the material has been presented at museum and theater shows, it has never been commercially available. Almost 200 live shows by acts like the Dead Boys, the Heartbreakers, Iggy Pop and Suicide have remained largely unseen since the two young cable TV employees hauled their gear around downtown clubs more than 30 years ago.
Fales has been collecting documentation of the downtown art scene since 1994. Marvin Taylor, director of the archive, told The Local, “You can’t talk about the art scene without talking about the birth of punk rock.” He described the Armstrong-Ivers material as the “premiere collection” of live recordings from the period, with great sound quality because the makers were able to record directly from the soundboards at clubs. “It’s the very best. I have never seen anything like it,” he said.
While I’ve been working on my book about Television’s Marquee Moon I’ve had ample opportunity to poke around the history of Club 82, a historic downtown drag venue (founded in the late ’50s by the mob, who controlled much pre-Stonewall gay nightlife) and an important early site, alongside nearby CBGB’s, for New York’s underground rock scene. (Here’s the entry from About.com’s Gay and Lesbian Travel section; here’s a fan site brimming with photos from the club’s earliest days.)
Everyone played there: Television, The Stillettoes (pre-Blondie), Wayne County (of course). The New York Dolls played an important show there in April of ’74 in which all the members but Johnny Thunders played in dresses. Lou Reed and David Bowie were in the audience now and again. Debbie Harry once said Club 82 was where kids from her New Jersey high school went after the prom; when she played there with the Stillettoes, members of the Who were in the audience.
Poking around to see if any video from the club existed, I came across a great video memoir of the scene, recorded by T. Roth, former frontman of the glitter band Another Pretty Face, who currently has a substantial following on YouTube where he posts videos under the name Zipster08. Here are his fantastic recollections of the club:
And of course a bit of video from the club does exist: Here’s Ivan Kral’s footage of Wayne/Jayne County in stage at the 82:
Sometime in 1974 Richard Hell wrote a review of his own band, Television, playing a set at a newish club called CBGB’s, from the perspective of a fictional audience member. “The place had a grapevine reputation on account of a band called Television that played there Sundays at midnight,” he writes. In the first few lines he sets the scene, describing the club’s sights and smells (“smelled like dogshit”), the sounds of the pool table before the band starts playing, and a particular single on the jukebox: “Talk Talk,” by Music Machine, from 1966. It’s the sort of song that makes you want to walk with a swagger.
You can find Hell’s entire piece in his collection Hot and Cold (2001).
The Marquee Moon project I’ve been working on in earnest for the last several months has given me occasion to read an enormous amount of music journalism from the scene at large and also the excuse to spend countless hours on YouTube looking for stray footage that’s survived and been made public.
Here are a couple clips I find quite compelling. They’re united in their indebtedness to simple rock and roll structures, though the Suicide track obviously pushes the boundaries and reimagines the form a little more forcefully than the rather straight-forward Mink DeVille song. But the acts are related as well by their mutual impulse to define themselves against the band Television, who were clearly, from 1975-77, kings of the scene. Tracks first, talk later:
Here’s Willy DeVille ragging on Tom Verlaine and Richard Hell (and the Ramones, for good measure) to NME in August 1977:
The first time Mink DeVille played CBGBs they opened for The Ramones and before the show they almost got into a rumble with them. “What a buncha fuckin’ pussies, man! ‘Punk Rockers’ and we’re antagonistic!” Maybe Mink were just a bit too real – or maybe the Ramones just felt threatened: “We used to play double bills with the Ramones and end up in fisticuffs. It is a very competitive scene in New York and as soon as the contracts started floating around everyone started getting edgy.
“Yeah, the Blank Generation – I understand what guys like Tom Verlaine and Richard Hell are talking about, but they’re fuckin’ rich kids from private schools in New Jersey. Personally I live close enough to the void that I don’t have to flirt with it. Once I walked around the streets for a coupla months thinking I was dead – but I couldn’t remember dying.”
And here’s Suicide’s Martin Rev, interviewed for the book Suicide: No Compromise, on their disconnect with the CBGB’s scene:
I was never close with either Television or Patti. The only conversation I had with any of their members was one occasion with Richard Hell, who once at an after-club party told me how much he dug Suicide. He also asked me to join his new group, the Voidoids, which he was forming when he left Television. He seemed genuinely disappointed when I avoided coming to the early rehearsals. I told Hell, I have a band, it’s Suicide.
Turns out Television was indirectly responsible for Suicide cutting its first single. Rev again:
I heard that there was a Television single on the jukebox at Max’s. I asked Tommy if we could put a single in the juebox and he said, “Yes.” I took a tape of “Rocket USA” and “Keep Your Dreams” to a guy on 48th Street. We cut two copies of the single and I put one on the jukebox. That was our first record.
The quality of the vinyl, apparently, was negligible. These were meant to be cheap pressings to pass to labels. After a while on the Max’s box, the sound started to deteriorate, but somehow that seemed fitting for Suicide’s general aesthetic. Recalled Peter Crowley, the booking agent at Max’s: “It just added another layer of sound.”
Our current obsession with the 70s continues on PWHNY. Judging from a quick Google search, it appears this clip made the rounds in the blogosphere a couple years back. I guess I’m arriving late. In any case, here’s a 20-year-old Koons being interviewed by a 23-year-old David Byrne, who had just made his debut with Talking Heads at CBGB’s that summer. Conversation ranges from The Bob Newhart Show to middle-class bars and strip clubs in small towns to what sets New York apart for aspiring artists. Koons says he came here from Chicago largely in response to the underground music scene after he’d heard the Patti Smith Group on the radio. Have at it:
A couple other Byrne conversations turn up from the same period. Were they part of a larger project? Or just kids sitting around, getting high and shooting the shit?
At least a partial transcription of the conversation here.
In keeping with the 1977 flashback that’s dominated our late-summer “Don’t Ask Me to Blog, I’m on Vacation” posts, here’s an interview with John Holmstrom and Legs McNeil, founders of Punk Magazine, conducted by an Austrailian teen TV show, Flashez. It has a few regrettable silent spots in the soundtrack.
As you may have noticed, blogging has been a little slow and thin around here over the last month. Cyrus and I are both laboring under multiple writing deadlines and will continue to post when we can. In the meantime, we’ll try to offer shorter posts directing you to stuff you may have missed elsewhere.
I realize that this is the second day in a row I’ve pilfered a post from the prolific EV Grieve — and I hope that anyone who reads AHNY regularly is already a regular reader of his site anyway — but just in case you’re not, I can’t let you overlook a link and interview he has up today.
The link leads you to 98 Bowery, 1969-1989: View from the Top Floor, a website by Marc H. Miller that chronicles, mostly through photographs, his twenty years living on the Bowery between Hester and Grand (think Congee). Organized and in most cases originating as conceptual art projects (paparazzi self-portraits, for instance), the photos offer an intimate account of art and music scenes downtown, with a heavy emphasis on the dizzying decade of the 1970s. My favorite set is a series of photos Miller took of his partner, Bettie, with the stars of the fledgling NYC punk scene: “Bettie Visits CBGB.” As a documentary tribute to the club and its cast of regulars, it’s fantastic, but what really pushes it over the edge is Bettie’s presence in each photo.
Here she is (in the dark blue) with Talking Heads:
I would have been profoundly grateful to Grieve simply for pointing me in the direction of this fantastic archive, but he went the extra mile and interviewed Miller. A highlight:
What do you want people who visit 98Bowery.com to take away from the site?
site is my story and the story of people I knew and worked with. It’s
also unavoidably a small lens on the bigger downtown art and music
scene in the 1970s and 1980s. During those years, I had no doubt that I was at the heart of the action, and I want people to see things as I experienced them.
History can be very selective but it can also be nudged along by good
story telling. That’s what I try to do with the site. Some of the
events and some of the people are fairly well-known. Others are less
so. Hopefully the site will give people a bigger picture of those