Beat Muhammad Ali

Afterthoughts on Bockris’ ”Muhammad Ali In Fighter’s Heaven”

By Tobe Damit

I was reading ”Muhammad Ali In Fighter’s Heaven’, one of a mutlivolumesque serie of very thorough biographies written by Victor Bockris, treating of everything that has to do with some specific thinkers and doers that were behind the 60’s counterculture and social revolution. Muhammad Ali In Fighter’s Heaven” was published the day after his victory over Foreman in 1974 and it was Ali’s favorite book about himself (and mine too!). If you check out the author’s bibliography you will find some of the most iconic figures of that revolution: All of which can be related in one way or another to Beat Punks. I’ve already reviewed in-depth his remarkable biographies about Andy Warhol and Lou Reed . By the way, I intend to review all of Bockris’ biographies in the near future here on LAN.

So, in the blue corner, you have all these writers, painters and musicians and then, in the red corner, there is a real boxer, an athlete so good that he left for sure a permanent mark in the boxing world. And you may ask yourselves ”How did he get there? How does Ali fit in with all these people who triggered a revolution in the 60’s?” Let me just say for starters that they all, in their own ways, shed some blood, sweat and tears. Muhammad Ali was much more than an athlete or an inspiring success story. Most people remember him from the early days of his celebrity for being a loud mouth. He sure was one. For each and every opponent he fought he would ”bust some rhymes”, taunting his opponents, predicting in how many they would go down, making fun of them any which way he could as well as giving names and meanings to his fights like Thrilla in Manila, (Ali-Frazier III in Manila, Philippines, October 1, 1975) and Rumble in the Jungle (Ali-Foreman in  Kinshasa, Zaire, October 30, 1974) that led to a documentary called ”When We Were Kings”.

Ali remembers the origins of his poetry: ”It was ’62, when I fought Archie Moore. Moore rhymed with four, so the publicity for that fight was:
Moore will
hit the floor
in round four

Then I fought Henry Cooper, I said:
This is no jive
Cooper will
leave in five

*This is a quote from Ali in Bockris’ ”Muhammad Ali In Fighter’s Heaven”.

Doesn’t that sound like rap to you?? It sure does to me. The very roots of rap were precisely a verbal fight between 2 opponents and organized as such in official contests and in my mind, those verbal assaults were the very first rap rhymes ever made. Some might deny him that but he did write poems. Now Ali also was a success story and a very good story-teller, you can’t deny him that. The very first ”big book” I read was Muhammad Ali very own striking autobiography ”The Greatest” that was later put into a mediocre movie in which Ali played his own character (of course!). Doesn’t it sound a lot like ”8 Mile’ to you?? (except for the fact 8 Mile is a good movie and Eminem a good actor). The irony is that ”The Greatest” was a fake bio written by a back muslim propagandist. Ali never read it and did not like it.  Bockris’ book about the champ was Ali’s favorite book. Victor gave it to him in 1975 and Ali had himself photographed with the book in the 1990s. His wife told me she was still reading the book to him in 2009! Because it is the most accurate account of his inner life and what he planned to do after he retired from boxing in 1975. The horror of the fights he was forced to fight from 1976-1981 made it especially appealing to the peace loving champion.

But first and foremost, Ali was an actor in his own life. He was an artist as a boxer, as a promoter, as a poet, as a spiritual figure, as a counterculture thinker, as a civil right champion, as a family man, as a life coach. Furthermore as you read Victor Bockris’ ”Muhammad Ali In Fighters Heaven” you are told that they were rocks painted by Ali’s father, Cassius Clay Sr., and transported by a guy named Harvey Moyer, huge rocks on the grounds of his training camp on which were painted the names of great adversaries, each of them representing a milestone in Ali’s life, installations that should be considered as conceptual art to be on the technical side of this but his skills were in every detail. These rocks meant a lot to Ali. What made Ali so inspiring is not so much what he did as how he did it and who he was, because who he was always transpired in the way he did things. Reading through ”Muhammad Ali In Fighter’s Heaven’‘,  you can very well imagine how everyone around him; his family, his supporters, trainers, organisers, doctors, lawyers, etc. were all devoted and loyal to him because they loved him as a person. He was running things with love and discipline, using one or the other along the way as required by the circumstances. Always true to himself and his beliefs, as a man, as a father, as a colored man and as a muslim.

One of the milestones on the training camp grounds. This one dedicated to Sonny Liston (obviously). This was taken during his training for the ”Rumble in the Jungle” fight.

Ali saw in his birth name Cassius Clay the mark of the slavery that was a burden to his colored brothers and that is the reason that he changed his name and his faith.

Muhammad Ali Remembered, by Those Who Knew Him as Cassius – The New York Times

On April 28, 1967, with the United States at war in Vietnam, Ali refused to be inducted into the armed forces, saying “I ain’t got no quarrel with those Vietcong.” This guy did what many thousands people promoting peace never even dared to do. This ”Black Muslim guy”, who was mistreated for as long as he can remember in his own country precisely because of the fact that he was black, said to the face of his recruiting officer that he had no intentions whatsoever to go kill another human being at the other end of the world, whom he had never met and further more who had never caused him any harm. Now it may not seem such an act of bravery but don’t forget that this young fellow still officially and originally named Cassius Clay, born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, this Muslim Black Boxer who at age 18, won a gold medal in the light heavyweight division at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome and turned professional later that year, was arrested, found guilty of draft evasion charges, and stripped of his boxing titles.

He successfully appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which overturned his conviction in 1971, by which time he had not fought for nearly four years and thereby lost a period of peak performance as a boxing athlete. Ali’s actions as a conscientious objector to the war had made him an icon for the larger counterculture generation but he definitely paid a very steep price. Those years were lost forever for him and for all of the world to see him boxing at his best even if he is still considered by many to be ”The Greatest”.

Andy Warhol-Muhammad Ali at Fighter’s Heaven, 1978©Photo by Victor Bockris

Of course the ultimate integration as a counterculture figure was Ali’s placid but unmovable resistance to go fight the Viet Nam war. And the unveiled interest Andy Warhol had towards him just confirmed the fact that Ali had become one of the greatest leading spirits of the 60’s and the 70’s.  The encounter of Andy Warhol to Ali’s training camp is detailed in Bockris’  ”Muhammad Ali In Fighter’s Heaven”. A man who’s dazzling virtuosity within the prize ring was matched only by his articulate and outrageous showmanship and integrity outside it.

I can see no better ending than to leave you with a poem written by Ali himself. This one of three poems that were exclusively published in ”Muhammad Ali in Fighter’s Heaven” for the first time… This one is a poem about…

FREEDOM

Better far from all I see
To die fighting to be free
What more fitting end could be?

Better surely than in some bed
Where in broken health I’m led
Lingering until I’m dead

Better than with prayers and pleas
Or in the clutch of some disease
Wasting slowly by degrees
Better than of heart attack
Or some dose of drug I lack
Let me die by being Black

Better far that I should go
Standing here against the foe
Is the sweeter death to know
Better than the bloody stain
On some highway where I’m lain
Torn by flying glass and pain

Better calling death to come
Than to die another dumb
Muted victim in the slum

Better than of this prison rot
If there’s any choice I’ve got
Kill me here on the spot

Better far my fight to wage
Now while my blood boils with rage
Lest it cool with ancient age

Better vowing for us to die
Than to Uncle Tom and try
Making peace just to live a lie

Better now that I say my sooth
I’m gonna die demanding truth
While I’m still akin to youth

Better now than later on
Now that fear of death is gone
Never mind another dawn.

– by Muhammad Ali (January 17, 1942 – June 3, 2016). ”Muhammad Ali In Fighter’s Heaven” contains an outstanding collection of his poetry, along with his commentary on how he wrote the poems.

”Muhammad Ali In Fighter’s Heaven” also contains a complete utterly interesting chapter detailling the historic encounter that took place when Warhol went to Ali’s training camp to take pictures of the champ. Here’s a glimpse…

Andy Warhol was far from the only artist to depict Ali in his art, though Ali himself said Warhol’s piece was “by far the best painting I have ever had of myself.” The painting, he felt, successfully conveyed his “many moods.” In preparation for these prints, Warhol traveled to Deer Lake Pennsylvania where Ali was training for a match with Ernie Shavers. It was at the training camp that Ali and Warhol met, and where Warhol took the photographs that would eventually become Ali’s portrait. Initially, Warhol seemed unafraid of the larger-than-life boxer. After being teased about the excessive price the pictures would be sold for, Warhol asked “Could we, uh, do some, uh, pictures where you’re not, uh, talking?” According to Bockris is “Nobody had ever told the champ to shut his famous mouth in quite such a not-to-be-trifled with way.” By the end of the shoot, however, Ali managed to unnerve the artist. When Warhol was finished taking photos he reached to shake Ali’s hand and mumbled, “Thanks er, champ.” The boxer spun around and furiously demanded, “Did you say tramp?” Ali laughed, but not before Warhol lost his cool in a brief moment of panic. *Direct quote from the chapter recounting Warhol’s visit to the camp in Bockris’ ”Muhammad Ali In Fighter’s Heaven”. 

This post is dedicated to Ali’s children: Laila Ali, Maryum Ali, Rasheda Ali, Asaad Amin, Hana Ali, Khaliah Ali, Jamillah Ali, Mya Ali, Muhammad Ali Jr. It is dedicated as well to all the children victims of crimes against humanity or civil rights violation. 

All rights reserved tobedamit.com 2017

Spiffy Custom Honda Ruckus

Ruk Studios NYC

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You could have your Honda Ruckus Honda Scooter custom made just for you. The Ruk Studio NYC team will put their craftmanship to your service and customize Honda Ruckus that are usually available to the public looking like this: 16523935_10208483086820449_408696783_o

And make it look like this:

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With a GY6 engine (1 gal =149 mi) and custom made tanks that will last twice the distance!  Tijuan Aikens wants to make this little babies customized and sold on the same spot right here in NYC! For starters, 6 models will be built, 2 of them will be customized by artist Eli Rivers and presented during the American television series BLACK INK CREW.

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Click on image for more models

Visit their website and help RUK STUDIOS NYC  build your dreambike! This obviously already has become a trend, so next summer, if you want a custom one built and sold in NYC, they can be yours for prices going from 800 to 1400$ US! RUK STUDIOS NYC needs your help to start rollin’ so go have a look at their gofundme page  for a nice kick off start!

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Questions?: go to RUK-Studios NYC

https://www.gofundme.com/NYC-RUK-STUDIOS

The Beauty of the Beast

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Transformer: The Complete Lou Reed Story by Victor Bockris

A Review by Tobe Damit
A Review by Tobe Damit

Updated after Reed’s death in October 2013, Transformer, The Complete Lou Reed Story definitely offers a lot more than one can possibly expect from a biography. Saying that Transformer encompasses everything you can possibly want to know about the life and times of the rock icon/artist/persona would still be a huge understatement. Going way beyond the usual narration of dates, love stories, anecdotes, arguments, relationships, records and tours reviews, Victor Bockris takes us much deeper, into the artist’s mystifying mind without a single dull moment, unexpectedly delving into the psyche as well as various traumas thus making Transformer a masterpiece that may seem at times closer to an essay written with a truly contagious passion. As I was reading various passages about Lou’s most intimate, meaningful moments, I suddenly became a voyeur, travelling through space and time, only making halts to land, embedded in Lou’s cerebral cortex, at very specific, revealing  moments,  a caterpillar enthralled in a mind-blowing, heart wrenching, enlightening spiritual journey to redemption and self-completion.

Reed©Francesco Scavullo 1974
Reed©Francesco Scavullo 1974

Caterpillar….As I was sifting through other reviews, I paused as I read the word ”butterfly” and pondered. As the biography evolves you really get the sense of a colorful and vivacious punk caterpillar struggling with an acute egoistic hedonism.Reed was constantly and desperately looking for a way to become a magnificent butterfly that proudly spreads its wonderful, astoundingly colorful wings with a rare dignified wisdom that is rarely reached by those who have such a big ego as Reed. Reading the book, you just know that in the end he had reached this point since with an ego, you cannot bend, and with an ego how can one be really dignified? How can an ego give you grace? It would be just a superficial posture, empty, impotent posture. Nothing inside, just an empty shell without any content. Reading Transformer, it is very obvious that Reed tremendously suffered from his ego all through his life. At times he may have had the posture but he was obviously to clever and sensitive to not come to the realisation that something was missing. A man should be able to be undignified too. If you are always dignified you cannot laugh, you cannot joke, you lose all humanity and become inhuman.

Punk Magazine 1976 First Issue with Lou Reed very ''insect'' look drawn by John Holmstrom. Consacrating Lou Reed as the ultimate Punk Rock Godfather.
Punk Magazine 1976 First Issue with Lou Reed very ”insect” look drawn by John Holmström. Consecrating Lou Reed as the ultimate Punk Rock Godfather. Click image for more.

The book bluntly starts, and very rightly so, with the shock therapy treatment Lou received starting in the spring of 1959 after Lou’s conservative parents, Sidney and Toby Reed, sent their son to a psychiatrist, requesting that he cures Lou of homosexual feelings and alarming mood swings. According to Lou, the shock treatment helped eradicate any feelings of compassion he might have and handed him that fragmented approach that took over most of his life. Lou could be so loveable that you wanted to invite him to supper and meet your family but then behaving in such a way that you wanted to kick him out the door the next minute.

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”I’m an artist and that means I can be as egotistical as I want to be”

Bockris really takes his time detailing with an almost scientific manner how screwed up his relationships became from then on, not only because of the treatment itself but also how it put his relationship with his parents in a twisted love-hate trauma because he simply could not fathom how his parents could have agreed to the torture that the shock treatment therapy represented to him, and yet, he simply couldn’t remove his parents from his life, even if he really felt the urge to do so. So there you are, Bockris gets you a privileged seat in the house, an overview of Lou’s entourage through his own mind. Of course it doesn’t explain everything but it sure explains a lot of his writings and the poetry of many of the songs that songs he has written. You get an even more seizing pregnant image of Lou’s relationship with his father towards the end of the book when Bockris hands us a very important of the puzzle when he writes ”One day, as a child, Lou’s hand strayed into close proximity to where his father was standing. He received a sharp smack for this action, recounts Reed’s close friend Julian Schnabel, who adds, “He never got over the cruelty of that.”

Lou Reed performing in UK at Scala Cinema,King's Cross,London on 15th of July 1972.
Lou Reed performing in UK at Scala Cinema, King’s Cross,London on 15th of July 1972. Bowie co-produced Reed’s first solo album Transformer very shortly after. 

Those who see Lou Reed as a punk icon are right, he is and will hopefully remain one  but as you get further down the line reading this biography you get the urge to spread the word that he is way more than that. To me White Light/White Heat was the first punk song ever to be recorded. Far from fast forwarding on that era, Bockris still goes through that era with all the required details even if the book Uptight: The Velvet Underground Story, by Victor Bockris and Gerard Malanga and is based on interviews with Nico, Cale, Reed, Morrison and Tucker, as well as others who became part of Andy Warhol’s circle of artistic collaborators. It remains widely acknowledged to be one of the greatest rock books ever published and is an utterly interesting, if not vital complement if you want to know the complete story because in this biography Bockris does not talk about that part of Lou’s life in details. You also get to see how Lou Reed desperately needs to be the center of attention as the original formation rapidly disintegrated. After the release of each album they loose one of the original member. First Nico, followed by Cale and then finally, Reed himself. You get a really good sense of his ”behavioral pattern” in one of Reed’s favorite movies called The Ruling Class featuring Peter O’Toole.

The original formation on the Velvet Underground produced by Andy Warhol in Hollywood 1966 © Gerard Malanga
The original formation of the Velvet Underground and Nico produced by Andy Warhol in Hollywood 1966 ©Photo credit: Gerard Malanga

Fortunately you also get to know other aspects of Lou’s life, especially towards the end his life when he met the one and only person who managed to rekindle all those inner conflicts that were constantly harassing Reed’s mind; his magical, almost mystical, third and last wife, Laurie Anderson. The process had already been put in motion with Robert Quinn without ending well as always but Bockris is the only one who managed to take us to a place that enabled Reed to get closer to functioning as a normal human being with the updated version of the biography. It is through the character of Lulu, who originally came to life in two plays by the ground breaking German playwright Frank Wedekind, an author who came to prominence around the same time as Oscar Wilde in the 1890s. Two great extrapolations of the play are G.W Pabst’s 1929 film Pandora’s Box.

Lou with Rachel, his muse from Metal Machine Music through Take No Prisoners and the subject of Coney Island Baby,1975 (Photo by Gerard Malanga)
Lou with Rachel, his muse from Metal Machine Music through Take No Prisoners and the subject of Coney Island Baby,1975 (Photo by Gerard Malanga). Click on image for more about Lou’s ladies.

Just the fact that Reed finally managed to reach what is the closest thing to serenity through his art and music is revealing of how much of a thoroughly honest and sincere artist Lou Reed always was. Each and every record brought him a piece of the solution, even if he sometimes got lost in the way, he obviously always made sure that each and every single thing he did was meaningful to him  as an artist and as a human being. Lulu is a totally underestimated album, a collaboration between him and the band Metallica, the best band he could think of to help him forge this masterpiece that finally managed to set him free, reconciling this ongoing battle between male-female and female-male, the jealousy, the fear of being rejected, all those complex feelings he was constantly struggling with came to be irremediably exposed and somehow ”tamed”. That is why Bockris in another masterful stroke of genius explains in details everything that was implied in the making of Lulu. You may not like the album, but you must take the time to think about everything it represents. Think of it as Lou and Metallica having violent, bordering non-consensual but this twisted passion is honest and not without hope and can be seen as an exorcism with Laurie Anderson’s precious help. It was the final touch that allowed Lou Reed to spend his final years at peace with John Cale with whom he released Peel Slowly and See, the ultimate Velvet Underground re-edition as well as the Deluxe Edition of White Light/White Heat . During the last six month of his life he also worked on his final collection of photographs Rimes/Rhymes and he even went to England to publicize Mick Rock’s limited edition of Transformer, a great collection of Lou Reed’s photographs.

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Lou Reed and Nico ©Mick Rock 1975

Of course this isn’t the only collaboration described in Transformer. You get to witness Lou’s collaborations with some of the most influential artists of his times, from John Cale, Andy Warhol (Reed and Cale made an album called Songs for Drella in Warhol’s honor after his death), and Nico, through David Bowie, Bob Ezrin, Robert Quine, Robert Wilson, Laurie Anderson and the ghost of Edgar Alan Poe on The Raven as well as many, many more. Reading Transformer you do really get the sense that there is a convergence leading to Lulu and get to understand why Lou Reed finally reached a point where he finally got some closure and could sit back and enjoy life, love, friendship and joking around. Maybe he just stopped trying to be perfect in the end, at last. Bockris states that he had learned to enjoy what he had, what he was and was proud of what he had done and was at peace with himself and for that, I think everyone can only be happy for him.

ANNIE LEIBOVITZ - "Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson Coney Island, New York, 1995"
Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson Coney Island, New York, 1995©Photo by Annie Leibovitz

By the way, reading transformer never gives you the overall feeling that Lou Reed was a complete degenerate asshole. On the contrary, you simply learn to get to know him and appreciate him for what he is and respect all the attempt his made to find out what really lies down at the end of every path he could take. Thanks to this book, I know that those of us who dare to try, no matter how fucked up we are, will one day reach a place that can be called home; that perfection can only be found deep inside our heart if only I we have the courage to let it bleed for the things that deeply, truly matters. I now understand that there is no such thing as an end, or death, only constant renewal. Reed reinvented himself so many times and in so many different ways. One MUST take that into consideration despite the despair and the fear the fear of the unknown. There is no ugliness, there is only a beauty that has yet to revealed itself, hidden in our deepest fears. This book is a major statement and is for sure as close as you will ever get to Lou Reed’s Rock’n’Roll Heart. Make sure you give it your undivided attention because just like it’s subject, this book will slap you in the face if you don’t!

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”When I’m talking, listen, goddamn it. When I’m talking to you, you look me in the eyes, goddamn it, or I’ll fucking smash you in the face, and I’m serious, I’m deadly serious’‘- Lou Reed to Robert Quine at CBGB’s, 1977 (extract from V. Bockris’ Transformer)

 

Interview with author Victor Bockris HERE!

All rights reserved tobedamit.com 2017

The Electrification of Mankind

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”The next step may be the electrification of all mankind by the representation of a play that may be neither tragedy, comedy, farce, opera, pantomime,melodrama or spectacle, as we now comprehend these terms, but which may retain some portion of the idiosyncratic excellence of each, while it introduces a new class of excellence as yet unnamed because as yet undreamed of in the world”   edgar_poe

– Victor Bockris quoting Edgar Allen Poe  in Transformer/ The complete Lou Reed Story, to describe the way Andy Warhol designed the Velvet Underground shows (i.e. the first multimedia events) 

 

The Life and Crimes of Micheal Alig

Glory Daze in the Limelight!

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Micheal Alig looking like a deer caught in the headlights

Micheal Alig was one of those people who spent a very unhappy childhood in South Bend, Indiana because he couldn’t fit in. He was bullied, humiliated, laughed at beaten and so forth.Back then you either went to LA or New York. He went to the latter just that he could be his real-self. Problem is it must have probably work too well, too fast because Alig became totally unhinged and it all ended in a ”Disco Bloodbath” for Angel,  the ”Spiritual-Super-Drug-Hero-Dealer” who’s body was sent floating on the Hudson by Alig and Robert “Freeze” Riggs, dismembered so that he could fit in a cardboard box. The river’s current usually sends everything to the ocean but a climate change had reversed the process and that’s how the body washed up on Staten Island instead.  He was lucky to be found at all.

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Michael Alig and Gitsie , Limelight NYC, 1992
Michael Alig, once known as the "King of the Club Kids" and who went to prison for manslaughter, is pictured on the left with Mykul Tronn and Caroline Lanson at Club El Morocco at 54th Street and 2nd Avenue in Manhattan. (Jan. 7, 1989) (Credit: Ed Quinn)
Michael Alig, once known as the “King of the Club Kids” and who went to prison for manslaughter, is pictured on the left with Mykul Tronn and Caroline Lanson at Club El Morocco at 54th Street and 2nd Avenue in Manhattan. (Jan. 7, 1989, Photo©Ed Quinn)

Alig could be described as a devilishly appealing guy from the Midwest who took the ’80s/’90s NYC clubs by storm with his subversive energy. Michael Alig always talked quickly, injecting a cackle between phrases, as he cooked up all sorts of mayhem and provocation. With aggression, smarts, and an anything-goes sense of creating fun, he quickly rose up the ranks of nightlife, becoming the darling of major domos like Rudolf Pieper and Peter Gatien, who later found that Alig was also a demon who could whip up tons of trouble as easily as he could dream up an open-bar party or a nutty performance art review.

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Sacred, James St-James, author of ”Disco Bloodbath” and Micheal Alig

He managed to create a scene that was totally surreal, crazy, glamorous yet not at all the same time. This was VERY profitable and it just kept on getting better and better. Alig’s notorious “Outlaw Parties”, which were thrown in various unconventional places including a Burger King, a Dunkin’ Donuts, abandoned houses and a subway, helped to revitalize the downtown New York City club scene which Village Voice columnist Michael Musto declared had atrophied after artist Andy Warhol died in 1987. Alig’s parties also became notorious due in part to his own “bad behavior”. Alig would throw $100 bills on crowded dance floors just to watch people scramble for them. In other instances, he would urinate on clubgoers or urinate in their drinks and stage falls wherein he knocked others to the ground.

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The sparkly-eyed club kids Micheal Alig and James St James

As Alig’s popularity in the club scene grew, so did his drug use. He was arrested several times for drug offenses and entered rehab, but continued to use drugs. In 1995, Alig’s boss Peter Gatien sent Alig to rehab once again.  Alig later claimed that after he completed his stint and was released, Gatien fired him.
Some of Alig’s behavior could be explained by a personality disorder; he was diagnosed with histrionic personality disorder. He stated that “The doctor said I was the most extreme case he’d ever seen. Everything has to be completely over the top and exaggerated. It worked well for my job – I was a promoter.At first Alig was totally against drugs and thought that anyone who was using was an absolute loser. Well that surely changed radically and soon Micheal Alig became a very heavy user of every drug you can possibly imagine, sinking low into depravity but always managing to have brilliant ideas and promoting what would become a way of life in itself: The Club Kids were born.

Now of course Micheal Alig had realised than drugs were bringing a lot more money than the admission entrance and the alcohol so he thought it would be stupid to let anyone else than him benefit from the profits generated by his parties so he created some sort of super hero figure that would be a guardian angel, offering you the boost you need to feel on top of the world again!! So he created Angel, a guy all dressed in white or silver wearing giant angel wings, able to offer you whatever drug you need whenever you need it. Of course in exchange of making Angel the official drug dealer of what was the hippest ”clientele” of  the New York Scene, Alig could ask for almost whatever he wanted up front and largely benefitted from this arrangement, until the debt became a too high a problem….

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Andre “Angel” Melendez

Andre “Angel” Melendez was regular on the New York City club scene and worked at The Limelight. He also sold drugs on the premises. After the bar was closed by federal agents when an investigation found that Peter Gatien was allowing drugs to be sold there, Melendez was fired. Shortly thereafter, he moved into Alig’s apartment. On the night of March 17, 1996, Alig and his friend Robert “Freeze” Riggs murdered Melendez after an argument in Alig’s apartment over many things including a long-standing drug debt. Alig has claimed many times that he was so high on drugs that his memory of the events is unclear.

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1992, At the Limelight with Peter Gatien

After Melendez’s death, Alig and Riggs did not know what to do with the body. They initially left it in the bathtub, which they filled with ice. After a few days, the body began to decompose and became odorous. After discussing what to do with Melendez’s body and who should do it, Riggs went to Macy’s to buy knives and a box. In exchange for ten bags of heroin, Alig agreed to dismember Melendez’s body. He cut the legs off, put them in a garbage bag and stuffed the rest into a box. Afterwards, he and Riggs threw the box into the Hudson River.

In the weeks following Melendez’s disappearance, Alig allegedly told “anyone who would listen” that he and Riggs had killed him. Most people did not believe Alig and thought his “confession” was a ploy to get attention.

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NYC club kids James St James and Michael Alig (right)

I told you the main lines of the story but I just wanted to make sure that if you were caught up in the story that you would watch this documentary on the subject.

In 1999 a memoir written by James St.James ”Disco Bloodbath: A Fabulous but True Tale of Murder in Clubland” was released and Disco Bloodbath has since gone out of print but was re-printed in 2003 under the title ”Party Monster – The Fabulous but True Tale of Murder in Clubland”. It was also made into a movie that you can also watch for free here:

We must not forget the fact that this man killed and dismembered a human being and if it come across as a side note in this story, I am deeply sorry but it is not that I do not care about the horrible torture and death that Angel suffered. I just wanted to let people decide for themselves by watching the documentary, the  shockumentary, the movie or reading the novel. Micheal Alig is out since May 5th, 2014. Will he be able to reinvent himself and create something new and funny and healthy and cool and…. or not?

”FEED MY MORBID CURIOSITY. LIFE IS A BLOOD BATH, ADD SOME GLITTER & PLAY IN THAT SHIT”

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SOCIAL DISEASE

Symptoms of a Glamorous Mental Illness

Andy_Warhol_by_Jack_Mitchell Andy Warhol and Archie, 1973 ©Jack Mitchell

”I will go to the opening of anything,including a toilet seat”

”I have social disease, I have to go out every night. If I stay home one nigtht spreading rumors to my dogs. Once I stayed home for a week and my dogs had a nervous breakdown. I love going out every night. It’s so exciting. I paint until the last minute and then go home for my first dinner of the night. I always have something simple and nutritious, because I don’t trust food anywhere but home. My favorite dinner is turkey and mashed potatoes-it looks clean.

I usually go out with one kid from my office-the Factory-like Fred Hugues, my business manager, or Bob Colacello, the editor of my magazine Interview. Employees make the best dates. You don’t have to pick them up and they’re always tax-deductible. I also like the feeling of having several of having several of my employees all around a party-it’s like being at the office.

You really have Social Disease when you make all play work. The only reason to play hard is to work hard, not the other way around like most  people think. That’s why I take my tape recorder everywhere I can. I also take my camera everywhere. Having a few rolls of film to develop gives me a good reason to get up in the morning.

I love the new, small, automatic-focus 35mm cameras like Minox and Konica. That’s what I used for the photos in this book. I think anybody can take a good picture. My idea of a good picture is one that’s in focus and a famous person doing something unfamous. It’s being in the right place at the wrong time. That’s why my favorite photographer is Ron Galella.

But back to m,y nightlife. After I’ve filled my plastic shopping bag from Brownie’s Health Food Shop with TDK ninety-minutes tapes, Kodak, TX-36 black-and-white film, and Duracell Alkaline AA batteries, I run out to my first party of the evening. I usually catch the tail end of a cocktail party, then go to a couple of dinners, stop off at Le Club, Regine’s, or Xenon, and end up at Studio 54. Or I go to a Soho opening, a Broadway opening, a boutique opening, a restaurant opening-when it opens I go. When it closes, I go too. I just go. That’s Social Disease.

The symptoms of Social Disease: You want to go out every night because you’re afraid if you stay home you might miss something. You choose your friends according to whether or not they have a limousine. You prefer exhilaration to conversation unless the subject is gossip. You judge a party by how many celebrities are there-if they serve caviar they don’t have any celebrities. When you wake up in the morning, the first thing you do is read the society columns. If your name is actually mentioned your day is made. Publicity is the ultimate symptom of Social Disease. But you know it’s fatal when you don’t want to get rid of it. You couldn’t anyway. How do you catch Social Disease? By kissing someone on both cheeks. Kissing people on both cheeks started out in France, like most diseases. It’s the society thing to do. Socialites never shakes hands. It hurts too much.

People say there’s no such thing as Society anymore. I think they’re wrong. There’s a new kind of Society. Now it doesn’t matter if you came over on the Mayflower, so long as you can get in Studio 54. Anyone rich, powerful, beautiful, or famous can get into Society. If you’re a few of those things you can really get to the top.

This book is about the people at the top, or around the top. But the top’s the bottom. Everyone up there has Social Disease…

It’s the bubonic plague of our time, the black and white life and death.”

 –Andy Warhol  from The Andy Warhol Diaries

Andy and some of the Factory regulars, photo by Dennis Hopper, 1963.
Andy and some of the Factory regulars, photo by Dennis Hopper, 1963.

 

RUSSIAN CRIMINAL TATTOO

Prison Storytelling, Subcultural Anthropology and the Allure of Darkness. 

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In the 1970’s, while American hippies were busy inking themselves with peace signs and psychedelic rainbows, Danzig Baldayev, a guard at St. Petersburg’s notorious Kresty Prison, began documenting the far less Woodstockian body art of Russia’s most infamous criminals.

For 33 years, Baldayev used his exclusive access to and rapport with the prisoners to hand-illustrate and capture in artful photographs more than 3,600 inmate tattoos — as admirable a feat artistically as it was sociologically.

In 2003, when he was in his late 70’s, Baldayev began releasing his magnificent archive as a series of books revealing a rich and eerie intersection of art and violence.

Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopaedia Volumes I, IIand III offer not only a visceral record of this intersection, but also Baldayev’s aambitious effort to, through text and illustrations, parse the meaning of these tattoos and place them in the context of this fiercely self-contained subculture. (Or, as it were, institution-contained as well.)

Perhaps even more striking than the body art itself is how Baldayev was able to talk some of Russia’s most dangerous convicts into posing for such intimate and often vulnerable portraits, an intimacy also seen in the work of Canadian photographer Donald Weber:

For a related glimpse of this darkly enigmatic world, the excellent Oscar-nominated 2007 film Eastern Promises about the Russian mob in London, starring Naomi Watts and Viggo Mortensen, offers an intriguing look at tattoos as storytelling, a narrative through which prisoners told their life stories and conveyed their credos.

Each of the volumes is an absolute masterpiece and a fascinating slice of subcultural anthropology. It’s the kind of thing that adds instant conversation potential to any home library or coffee table, and guaranteed you’re-cooler-than-my-other-friends gifting recognition.

Some images by Donald Weber

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Just Kids by Patti Smith

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“The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.” ― Lester Bangs

I have just finished reading ”Just Kids” for the second time and I can’t help feeling a bit of anguish as I’m about to express my perception of Patti’s first book of prose mainly, I suppose, due to the fact that it’s a best seller. Not that I disagree, Au contraire! All the praise about ”Just Kids’‘ is very well deserved, but so much has been said already that I forbade myself to read any of it so that everything I would say would  be 100% mine. Therefore I will simply pretend I’m the only bloody diamond geezer who was clever enough to read it, heartily hoping to bring something new to the table in the process. I chose this quote by Lester Bangs as an opener because these words seemed to be the very foundation of one of the most sincere and coolest relationship ever, one that’s been told through the pages of ”Just Kids”, a true story that would in itself become an inspiration for so many more to come. It’s a call to be who I really am no matter what, because by doing so, I might be able to bring something unique and new in this bankrupt world.

”There Will Always Be Us!”

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     In ”Just Kids”,  legendary, highly authentic American inspired singer-songwriter, poet, and visual artist Patti Smith, who  became an influential component of the New York City punk rock movement, offers a very unique, never-before-seen glimpse of her honest, enduring, sister-brother, Yin/Yang, boyfriend/girlfriend magical everlasting relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe in the epochal days of New York City and the Chelsea Hotel in the late 60s and 70s.

The relation itself is the guiding light and the whole purpose of this book and if, at times, certain passages might seem trivial, well, they never were. This unconditional love they shared –  creative, sensitive, stimulating and artistically prolific – becomes a sincere and deeply moving story of youth, friendship and ultimately success. The best thing being that anyone can relate to it in a very intimate, personal way.  ”Just Kids” fully grasp the heartfelt passion and holds this very same unique, sensitive and lyrical quality that is written between each lines of her formidable body of work, from her influential 1975 album Horses to her visual art and poetry.

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Photo©by Frank Stefanko scanned by Patricia Lee Smith 

No one else could have better described all the ins and outs of the unique, constantly evolving story she shared with Robert Mapplethorpe, and this means way more than just itemizing their body of work, for the whole represents way more than the sum of it and their relationship in itself was on its own an expression of art. It just couldn’t be contained in its entirety in little works nor in big works for all to see.  Parts have been laid in music, paintings, poems and photographs but even all these, as inspired and beautiful as they are, fail in giving us a complete picture. Even if it celebrates a friendship that left a permanent impact on almost every artistic aspect and style in America, it still had to be told in a book. It was essential and sacred. Patti had to share their journey under the blue star, a symbol of their undying love for each other, one last time.

Patti writes in a Last Note to the Reader:

”We were as Hansel and Gretel and we ventured out into the black forest of the world. There were temptations and witches and demons we never dreamed of and there was splendor we only partially imagined. No one could speak for these two young  people nor tell with any truth of their days and their nights together. Only Robert and I could tell it. Our Story, as he called it. And, having gone, he left the task to me to tell it to you. ” – Patti Smith, Just Kids, May 22, 2010

What makes this book so special is how Patti manages to express a magic that started almost immediately. Patti arrived in NYC with almost nothing but her wish to accomplish something no one has done before. Robert was already in NYC and struggling on an urban survival mode, but nevertheless they both had a deep sense that life had something very special in store for them and that it was written in the stars. They never thought it would be so hard, that they would have to struggle so much just to survive but nevertheless it didn’t take very long for them to be able to recognize the signs. We can feel that they saw in each other something true and very real, something which they felt they would later be able to rely on as persons and as artists. Of course there were moments of doubts but maybe it was these crucial moments that would prove them to be essential to one another. It never was a give and take type of relationship. The base for it might just be honesty, true faith in each other’s talent, the hope that there was a place for them as they were and that with a lot of work, perseverance and a little bit of luck, they would both find their niche as people and artists. Lots of spoken, unspoken pacts were made, very few ever broken.

Patti Smith by ©Andy Warhol , Ca. 1972

Despite a certain ”twinlike” aspect, their part in each other’s life could also definitely be seen as complementary. One could say that Robert was the eternal dreamer, on some aspects, even alien to practical knowledge and certain everyday life faculties and that Patti possessed a more down to Earth perspective on life but this is only a half truth since, when needed, on several occasions, they could trade roles and when the other one would be in dire need of a trait that would normally be the other one’s unsaid character/task assignment, they would put their egos aside and would manage to trade places if it would help the other to get through a rough patch.

”The premise was simply that one of us always had to be vigilant, the designated protector. If Robert took a drug, I needed to be present and conscious. If I was down, he needed to stay up. If one was sick, the other healthy. It was important that we were never self-indulgent on the same day.

In the beginning I faltered, and he was always there with an embrace or words of encouragement, coercing me to get out of myself and into my work. Yet he always knew that I would not fail  if he needed me to be the strong one”

The Chelsea Hotel

Patti Smith on the balcony of the Chelsea Hotel , 1971
Patti Smith on the balcony of the Chelsea Hotel , 1971

“I loved this place, its shabby elegance, and the history it held so possessively”

Back in those days, New York City was a very dangerous place. Some areas were filled with what is commonly regarded as the lowest forms of the human species likes thieves, pimps, rapists, thieves, hookers, murderers and so forth. Being young artists who strive to survive, of course they were bound to have to live in such areas. At one of their lowest points they were plainly told that they had to get out, that they wouldn’t make it if they stayed. Fortunately, there was a place that offered hope if you were an artist, a little island of optimism, gathering past, present and future generations of artists of all kinds where you didn’t even need to have money right away. Stanley Bard would keep your portfolio, or take a work of art until you could get it back and you were now part of a community that was very special, during the 60s and the 70s especially. The Chelsea played a huge part in the history of the new generation of artists of the 60s and the 70s.

”Gregory made lists of books for me to read, told me the best dictionary to own, encouraged me and challenged me. Gregory Corso, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs were all my teachers, each one passing through the lobby of the Chelsea Hotel, my new University. ”

”The Moon Turned Blood Red”

robert mapplethorpe and patti smith in their chelsea hotel apartment, circa 1970, photo©Albert Scopin.
Robert and Patti Smith Chelsea Hotel, circa 1970, photo©Albert Scopin.

Yet they came to a point where one or both of them needed more space, more freedom. Some things are meant to be faced and dealt with on your own even if they knew the other one will still be there for me if need it be but never taking one another for granted and always being grateful of each other’s effort to play the right part when needed, never taking advantage of one another. In one word: Respect was of course the cement that sealed the ”deal”. Robert soon had to face his inner demons and question his sexuality again and again. Of course this was heart wrenching for both of them.

”He had been with a fellow and not for money. I was able to give him some measure of acceptance. My armor sill had its vulnerable points, and Robert, my knight, had pierced a few, though without desiring to do so.”

Their relationship morphed and this had major effects on their everyday lives. It is during theses major changes and adaptations that could have tore them apart that we see that love makes all the difference in the world and that instead of trying to exert control on each other’s lives, they simply went ahead with the flow and they grew stronger. I would say that we witness how something some would see as a humiliation becomes merely a chance to humble ourselves and let life take its natural course. Never stop to love and support those who are true soul mates. A bond stronger than marriage.

I will not spoil all the fun and tell you everything that happens. I already told you the big lines and a few little ones but Here is one last thing that I realised reading ”Just Kids”.

I so happened to notice that in general there can be two different kinds of artists. Some very callous, careless, aloof and undisciplined that are successful because of their God-given talent  and so much passion that they seem to evolve in a different space and time, going all the way with everything they’ve got, with all their worries and genius. They truly appear as some unstoppable forces of nature, pushed by some alien powers. Then there are others with which they share the same gift, also having a remarkable imagination, but very rooted in their reality, very lucid and conscious of the space they occupy in space and time as well as having a clear view on what is their place in society and what their relationships made of, how strong can they be.

Now certain artists are lucky enough to have just about the right proportion of each of these components within themselves, to be well supported by a team of people they trust and that have faith in their work. I think ”Just Kids” is about the encounter of 2 people who miraculously manage to complete each other perfectly as people and as artists.

Patti Smith and Sam Shepard in their play, Cowboy Mouth, in New York in 1971
Patti Smith and Sam Shepard in their play, Cowboy Mouth, in New York in 1971
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Dylan, Smith and Sam Shepard attended a party at Allen Ginsberg’s Greenwich Village house, where ©Ken Regan took several photos of Dylan and Smith in conversation on the stairs.

So?

”Where does it all lead?What will become of us? These were our young questions and young answers were revealed.

It leads to each other. We become ourselves.”

Fred "Sonic" Smith (September 14, 1949 – November 4, 1994) , was an American guitarist, best known as a member of the influential and political, Detroit rock band, the MC5. Later in life he married and raised a family with poet and fellow rock musician, Patti Smith. The couple collaborated musically, and raised two children together.
Fred “Sonic” Smith (September 14, 1949 – November 4, 1994) , was an American guitarist, best known as a member of the influential and political, Detroit rock band, the famous MC5. He married with poet and fellow rock musician, Patti Smith. The couple collaborated musically, and raised their two children together. 

Together the Smiths had a son, Jackson (born 1982) and a daughter, Jesse (born 1987). Jackson, a guitarist, was married to Meg White (formerly of indie band The White Stripes). Jesse is a pianist. Both have performed on stage with their mother along with other members of the Patti Smith Group.

Patti Smith never forgot Robert Mapplethorpe and wrote ”Just Kids” in 2012. She had made a promise to Robertthat she’d write a book about them and she did, Patti wrote this memoire of their friendship in her own unique personal, direct, sensitive and wholhearted style and we should be all damn happy she kept her promise!

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Just Kids won:

Also by Patti Smith  9781101910160

 

Bukowski Uncensored

I’m Such a Spoiled Old Toad!

In 1993, candid conversations between Charles Bukowski, his wife, and his producer took place in Bukowski’s home during the recording session for his classic Run With the Hunted.

We brought the outtakes to life for HarperCollins.

Animation by Drew Christie  & harperaudioclassics.com

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