downtown scenes

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A post from last year that rounds up our Patti-related content on this site (and a little bit elsewhere as well). Since then, we took note that her 2010 memoir, Just Kids, won the National Book Award.

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.

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Via the Guardian‘s music blog, an extended mix of Arthur Russell tracks and reimaginings. Perfect for the return of snow at the end of a long weekend.

Pocketknife presents Moving Me Up (Russell Mania) by elninodiablo

Details/tracklist here.

Previously.

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I played this song, along with Lou Reed’s “New York Telephone Conversation,” yesterday morning before lecture. They both suggest to me some of the cattiness that goes on in Tyler’s The Contrast, all the bitchy business about fashion and manners and social networking. This is a pretty great Blondie performance, Sept. 1977 at the Whisky-a-Go-Go. I love the way Debbie Harry’s hair seems to recall Bowie’s mullet.

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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:

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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.

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The family of poet/singer/troublemaker Tuli Kupferberg has announced a public memorial service to be held at St. Mark’s Church tomorrow, Sat. July 17, from 11:45 to 3:00 pm. Surviving members of The Fugs will perform. The first hour will be a viewing. The service will be followed by a reception for friends and family and a private burial service Monday at Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn.

The image above is a screenshot Brooklyn Vegan posted from one of Tuli’s final YouTube missives from the past spring:

The Times‘s full obituary is here; a “popcast” including conversation between Times music writers about Tuli’s legacy is here.

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When I posted about Ginsberg yesterday I had no idea Peter Orlovsky, Ginsberg’s long-time lover and a Beat poet in his own right, had passed on May 30. He was 76.

The Times doesn’t have an obit up yet, same with the Voice (it’s shameful!), but here’s one from the Washington Post and another from the LA Times‘s Jacket Copy blog.

Here’s Peter’s poem “Frist Poem” (sic). The typo in the title was, if not intentional, then at least ratified by being published that way. As you’ll see, Peter’s spelling was idiosyncratic and he seems to have made a point in not letting other people (or himself) clean it up. The poem was written in 1957 and collected in his Pocket Poets Series volume Clean Asshole Poems & Smiling Vegetable Songs (City Lights, 1978). You’ll find a couple other poems at Brian Nation’s page on Orlovsky, which is where I clipped this one:

FRIST POEM

A rainbow comes pouring into my window, I am electrified.
Songs burst from my breast, all my crying stops, mistory fills
    the air.
I look for my shues under my bed.
A fat colored woman becomes my mother.
I have no false teeth yet. Suddenly ten children sit on my lap.
I grow a beard in one day.
I drink a hole bottle of wine with my eyes shut.
I draw on paper and I feel I am two again. I want everybody to
    talk to me.
I empty the garbage on the tabol.
I invite thousands of bottles into my room, June bugs I call them.
I use the typewritter as my pillow.
A spoon becomes a fork before my eyes.
Bums give all their money to me.
All I need is a mirror for the rest of my life.
My frist five years I lived in chicken coups with not enough
    bacon.
My mother showed her witch face in the night and told stories of
    blue beards.
My dreams lifted me right out of my bed.
I dreamt I jumped into the nozzle of a gun to fight it out with a
    bullet.
I met Kafka and he jumped over a building to get away from me.
My body turned into sugar, poured into tea I found the meaning
    of life
All I needed was ink to be a black boy.
I walk on the street looking for eyes that will caress my face.
I sang in the elevators believing I was going to heaven.
I got off at the 86th floor, walked down the corridor looking for
    fresh butts.
My comes turns into a silver dollar on the bed.
I look out the window and see nobody, I go down to the street,
    look up at my window and see nobody.
So I talk to the fire hydrant, asking "Do you have bigger tears
    then I do?"
Nobody around, I piss anywhere.
My Gabriel horns, my Gabriel horns: unfold the cheerfulies,
    my gay jubilation.

Nov. 24th, 1957, Paris

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When I first thought of teaching an intensive summer seminar on New York’s downtown scenes — which I just wrapped up last Friday — I planned only to teach the 1970s. Gearing up to write my 33 1/3 volume on Television’s Marquee Moon, I wanted to immerse myself in a broad range of materials from the period detailing a number of overlapping downtown arts scenes.

I quickly realized, though, that much of what I wanted to do with the 70s in class required some understanding of the area’s arts scenes in the 1960s, and so I decided to expand the timeframe to 1960-80. When the final reading list was drawn up, I’d reached back even further: I had a hunch that the work of some particular downtown arts pioneers who created seminal works in the 1950s — Allen Ginsberg and John Cage, especially — would become threads that would weave through the entire course.

Turns out I was right in both cases, but especially in Ginsberg’s. (Other people whose work proved to have lasting effects on the downtown scenes we discussed include O’Hara and Warhol.) Almost without fail, Ginsberg turned up in every day’s discussion over the course of our two weeks, either as a direct influence, a character, a mentor, or a commentator. His appearances ranged from the goofy parka-wearing, pot-smoking version of himself in Pull My Daisy to the author of Howl (which in turn authorized The Fugs’ memorable “I Saw the Best Minds of My Generation Rock”) to the prophet wandering in the background of Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” in Pennebaker’s Dont Look Back. Jonas Mekas captured him plotting with Barbara Rudin and other LES lefties in the 1960s (we watched the second reel of Walden) and as a fixture on the LES poetry scene he popped up in several of the pieces we read by our friend Daniel Kane. Ginsberg offered astute commentary on Dylan’s lyrics in a PBS documentary on the history of rock and roll. He provided a very memorable scene in Jim Carroll’s memoir Forced Entries, worked with — and claimed to deflower — the downtown composer and scene-crosser Arthur Russell, and befriended Patti Smith. He lived in the same building as both Russell and the members of Television. (Richard Hell still lives there.) In Steven Sebring’s Patti Smith: Dream of Life, which was the very last thing, along with Smith’s Just Kids, that we considered for this course, we see Patti’s very emotional reading at a Ginsberg memorial; later in the film she chants the “Footnote to Howl,” offering all the evidence anyone should need that even Ginsberg’s most idiosyncratic work holds up under someone else’s voice.

I’m still trying to work out exactly what it was that made Ginsberg’s legacy so unique in the materials we discussed. Although I opted not to show it to the class, I privately viewed a late-1980s odd-ball documentary on East Side poetry, Maria Beatty’s Gang of Souls: A Generation of Beat Poets, in which nearly every poet interviewed, including younger writers and musicians such as Richard Hell, Lydia Lunch, and Jim Carroll, singles out Ginsberg as the towering figure of twentieth-century New York writing. Cage’s influence on musicians and artists, by contrast, was subtle, almost imperceptible, though still very much in place. Perhaps Ginsberg seemed to matter because he offered such a clear model for how to make a scene and how to canonize one’s comrades. But he also seemed to matter because he was, quite simply, on the scene for so long, taking an interest in younger writers’ work (and more), offering advice, continuing to read in public. O’Hara mattered as an icon in his early death (and a pioneer of a poetics that clearly took hold among other New York School poets); O’Hara also drew young, aspiring poets to the city, but that hands-on influence was cut short. Warhol mattered as a media mastermind and behind-the-scenes manipulator. But Ginsberg just seemed to be there wherever we turned, presiding, prodding, provoking. In the history of late-twentieth-century New York writing it’s difficult, I’m finding, to come up with someone whose life and work had broader impact.

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Today’s topics: Warhol, the Factory, Warhol’s relation to the poetry world, Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable, The Velvet Underground and Nico. I’ll be showing a sizable chunk of the second episode of Ric Burns’s Andy Warhol: A Documentary Film, and we’ll be discussing the first Velvet Underground album — both in relation to Warhol’s scene and to the downtown minimalist music scene we began to dip into yesterday. (To get at the latter I’ve had the class read Alex Ross’s chapter on bebop and minimalism , which culminates in his reading of the Velvets as “Rock and Roll minimalists.”)

Watching portions of the Burns doc last night reminded me of the downtown party scene from Midnight Cowboy, which I hadn’t seen in quite a while. I YouTubed up the clip:

Warhol was apparently supposed to appear in this scene. (Several of his “superstars” do.) But Valerie Solanis, of course, had other plans.

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Today I begin teaching a two-week intensive undergrad seminar on New York’s Downtown Scenes, 1960-80. The course meets four hours a day, five days a week. It promises to be a little intense.

To set the stage, today we’ll discuss Ginsberg’s Howl, talk about the physical space and population of the Village and the LES in the 1950s and 1960s, and head out on a Beats-themed walking tour led by Cary Abrams of the Lower East Side History Project. (You can take the tour Thursdays at 2:00 if you’re interested.)

We’ll also, assuming the new super-smart business-school classroom we’re meeting in has something as old-fashioned as a VCR, watch Alfred Leslie and Robert Frank’s 1959 film Pull My Daisy, considered a watershed in avant-garde American film. Narrated by Jack Kerouac and adapted from his play, the film stars Ginsberg and Gregory Corso as themselves and also features the musician David Amram, both as music director and actor. Amram discusses the film in this three-part interview, which includes enough clips to give you an idea of what the film’s like:

And here’s the film in its 26-minute entirety:

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