The Two Best Books for Bringing Back '70s Post-Punk
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because corporate rock still sucks.
By Eugene S. Robinson
After Sid Vicious killed himself in 1979 and Studio 54 — the disco playground for everyone from Andy Warhol to Bianca Jagger — was sold in 1980 after its owners were busted for tax evasion, New York, having endured more than its share of “next big things,” was casting around for the next one.
Sort of completely ignoring the fact that it was already happening. Not so much the hardcore music that rescued clubs like CBGB from the corporate crawl generated by radio-friendly New Wave bands (though that became a force in its own right). But as detailed in Richard Boch’s recently released book on the Mudd Club called The Mudd Club — yes, the same one mentioned in the Talking Heads song — and Richard Lloyd’s Everything Is Combustible, the best kind of cool was being created in spaces free from the glare of notice.
If you couldn’t have been in New York at the end of the ’70s, Lloyd does a great job of putting you right there. Stink and all.
Bart Thurber, guitarist and studio owner extraordinaire
Lloyd, founder of the band Television — whose Marquee Moon is almost inarguably one of the best records ever recorded — was in the mix with Patti Smith, the Ramones, and a passel of punks and those seeking to benefit from proximity: A-listers like Keith Richards and Keith Moon. Or, as Lloyd tells it, once when being chided by Keith Richards’ mom over the fact that her son’s band was more popular, Lloyd said that he and Keith were both organ grinders but that “Keith had a better monkey.”
Those were the same kind of stones needed to make musical art in the midst of drugs, real urban crime and that kind of special madness that kicks in when you’re a little too close to the edge. So, special that it was Lloyd who wrote it? Mental hospitals and drug overdoses notwithstanding? Hell, yes. “If you couldn’t have been in New York at the end of the ’70s,” says guitarist and studio owner extraordinaire Bart Thurber, “Lloyd does a great job of putting you right there. Stink and all.” Not a single bit of which is lost in his 400-page memoir.
A memoir that, considering the time period, overlays Boch’s much more narrowly focused book. On the heels of Studio 54 closing, the Mudd Club — in a much less user-friendly locale down on the edge of Chinatown in Lower Manhattan — became the spot. A spot that if you didn’t know it was there you’d walk right by. But Boch, manning the chain at the front door, was busy spending his time constructing the kind of parties and places where you might see opera mutant Klaus Nomi on stage and David Bowie in the audience. Or on a couch next to a couple of the Ramones.
“You would be ashamed of yourself for even going there,” Klaus Flouride, bassist for the Dead Kennedys, says about the club with its reputation for sin and bacchanal. But there was another side to it, captured in Boch’s telling of his own story, which is almost inseparable from the story of the club. The side that saw the Beastie Boys doing a step-by-step tribute to Travolta in Saturday Night Fever on the dance floor for fun while hip-hop MC Fab 5 Freddy hung out with Debbie Harry and with Allen Ginsberg not too far off to the side. Or where fashion designer Halston hung with lawyer and Trump confidant Roy Cohn.
“Essentially, all the art, music, culture and lifestyle that America’s been huffing since then came from what was happening between those walls during that time,” says floral designer/director and one-time New York club kid Laura Zeitlin.
And the books? Despite their obsession with nostalgia, probably the closest you’re going to get at this point.