Mummy, What Was Punk Rock?
Downtown NY in the mid 70's was an exciting place to be if you were into music. In fact, it was an exciting place to be if you were in your 20's and feeling ready for just about anything. It was before the gentrification of the lower east side, before the city got cleaned up and polished, and it was gritty, scary, full of characters and full of possibilities. The "Summer of Sam" might have been a horror show for many, but for me... it was a pageant of energy and people and music.
A place that figured largely in my experiences in NY at that time was CBGB. I saw lots of great - and not so great - bands play there, but it was really the atmosphere that made it all happen. I remember when I saw The Ramones play there; I had never seen them play live, and I was over the top excited about it. I waited with a couple of friends for a few hours just so we could get front row seats. We ended up second in line, behind some hippie chick whose t-shirt was festooned with all kinds of punk buttons, including the requisite "Disco Sucks." Our patience was rewarded with up-front seats next to Legs McNeill and some other person from Punk Magazine and an unobstructed view up Joey Ramone's nose. The music was beyond loud and so relentlessly fast that it impossible to resist the urge to pogo. We even left with a door prize: ringing in our ears that persisted for days. There was no doubt about it...It was an awesome show!
I read in an article by John Pareles in the NY Times last Sunday that it looks like CBGB will be evicted in September from the location on the Bowery where it's been for almost 32 years. There's talk of possibly turning it into a punk rock museum or moving it to Las Vegas...both options decidedly very much counter to the whole spirit of what punk rock was about in the first place. But, things do change over the course of 32 years...I can attest to that...although it still made me feel a little sad.
So I got out the step ladder and rummaged through my old journals on the top shelf in my office closet (yep...they're in the "out of circulation" section), and found an entry about that show and some people I knew who were into the scene downtown at the time. Above is a picture of me and a girl named Alison that I sketched to go with the following entry written January 24, 1978. I did alter it by adding the background after I scanned it from my journal.
Alison is a nice girl, but she looks like a scolded mole. Big nose, long bleached blonde shag, terrible posture, and a perpetual apologetic expression. I ran into her in the florist's the other day. I was buying flowers to enhance a sit-down dinner for ten, and she was buying flowers for Joey Ramone's quick recovery. A teapot blew up in his face. Very strange. I can't picture him drinking tea.
So...that's my little bit of randomness for today. This button, a gift from a friend who brought it back from London, perhaps speaks in favor of creating a punk rock museum. After all, how else will future generations answer such important questions?