Around 1969, Patti became quite involved with the Warhol drag-queen crowd They were part of the same cast in some plays and were all hanging out at Max’s Kansas City, It was around that time that they developed the concept of the Outrageous Lie. The idea was that if you simply lied, you would get caught but if you created an absolutely Outrageous Lie and truly believed it yourself, people would buy it, hook, line and sinker. During a rehearsal, Patti confessed that she had become pregnant at nineteen and as the baby grew inside her, it became impatient and it kicked until WHAM! A leg came right through her stomach wall and was hangin’ out! . ”Like all things that happen, it had a purpose. It was the right time for the Outrageous Lie. Everyone began to think of themselves in mythological proportions.” –From ”Patti Smith’‘ by Victor Bockris
Q and A with authorVictor Bockris,esteemed chronicler of the New York Underground, about ”Patti Smith: An Unauthorized Biography”
LAN:The most common editions on the market now say: ”Patti Smith:An Unauthorized Biography” by Victor Bockris. The copy I have doesn’t have the word ”Unauthorized” on the cover or anywhere else for that matter, so what’s the story?
Victor Bockris: O.K. I gave you the U.K. edition published in 1998 as opposed to the U.S. edition published in 1999. I prefer the first edition because it has more of a punk sound to it than its U.S. counterpart. I think Smith’s attorney asked us to add unauthorized on the cover. I never cease to be amazed by how little people in the rock business fail to understand the value of a good biography. After all the purpose of biography is to celebrate the subject’s achievements. I know my Keith Richards and Lou Reedbiographies did their subjects a lot of good in six to ten countries. Keith was published to coordinate with release of his first solo album. Mine was the first book about Keith and the first to put his songwriting talents on the same level as McCartney and Dylan’s. I always had a hard time reading my books after they were published. So much time and work goes into them yet they seem woefully less than I expected. E.g. I was surprised when the Smith book got published in four other countries.The simple fact is that I had not stopped writing biographies for more than a couple of weeks since 1983. I was burned out when I started to write the book in 1995 and things got worse end worse over the ensuing years. I should have taken a vacation before I began to research the Smith book, but I was involved in an expensive marriage among other things. In hindsight I think an author who marries his work and sees his books as his children should not get married. Anyway, if is probably easier for American and Canadian fans to buy the U.S. edition, completed in collaboration with Roberta Bailey, from Amazon, etc. Those determined to get the U.K. edition would have to look for its black cover with Patti’s face partially obscured. Your review serves both books equally well because you really pinned the essence of the book.
LAN: Are there differences between the various editions??
Victor: The difference between the books is their length. The U.S. edition is sixty pages longer than the U.K. edition, but I think it’s just that I took longer to say the same thing. If anybody does a comparative reading of the two books I’d be glad to know whether they agree with me or not.
LAN: How would you describe your collaboration/relation with Patti?
Victor: Part of the problem I had with writing about Patti was that despite launching her career in the UK at a great Telegraph Books reading in London and publishing her first book Seventh Heaven, both in 1972, she soon developed a hostile attitude towards me, insisting that I had ripped her off. Telegraph Books sold for $1.00 each, which meant we would have received sixty cents per book if our distributor had ever paid us which of course they didn’t. Meanwhile we sold less than three hundred copies of her book. Even after doing the great interview with her the same year she continued to badmouth me. Patti did one lovely thing when she tried to set me up with her little sister Linda. Maybe it was because I didn’t follow through on it that made me such a bad person in her opinion. Linda was great and very pretty, what was wrong with me? I still haven’t found out!! No, the real problem with Patti was that when people make it out of the New York underground they either continue to be themselves or they get weirdly arrogant and distant. The more successful Patti was the more arrogant, less likable and less truthful she became. On top of that I betrayed my calling by ignoring in my book a lot of nasty stuff she was involved in for fear it would upset her children, who had recently had to contend with their father’s death. In short, what should have been the most fun book to write, since we came out of the same world, quickly turned into a nightmare. It is only now when I am looking at all my books as part of one work that I recognize the value and place of this book. And I intend to look more deeply into it.
LAN: Do you feel that because of her huge literary background that maybe she is responsable for transmitting ideas and concepts from the Beat Generation, making that connexion with the Punk movement?
Victor: Patti is definitely the cross over figure between the Beats, the Warholschool/Dylan etc and the Punks. My book Beat Punks was an attempt to draw some connections between these three generations. In fact, the focus of all my work now is to trace the development of the Beat Punk Generation that ran through the last great art movement to come out of New York in the seventies and early eighties.
LAN: Do you think she had a special role in music because of that?
Victor:Patti’s roll in music may still need to be properly judged. On the one hand, she was in the front lines of punk. On the other, since she never really took any social part in New York punk’s scene, holding herself above us, New York punk is not really her home. Her self-image as a Paul Revere – Field Marshal off Rock figure puts her in a larger though somewhat lonely category. She may best be seen as a figure who dances between the cracks from Dylan/The Byrds-Yardbirds through the punk seventies, who just has not yet crawled out on the other side of it. I can see a whole other golden period for Patti if she figured out a way to take her whole crew of Saints, from Marianne Faithful and Rimbaud to Blaise Cendrars and Anita Pallenberg (R.I.P) etc, etc, on the road. She needs a family of visionary artists to protect her from the ancient crone syndrome that comes to those who have been careless with their friends.
LAN: Apart of the fact the she adored her husband Fred ”Sonic” Smith, do you think that the MC5 had any kind of influence on Patti’s music. Was she a fan of the MC5?
Victor: Most of us embraced the MC5 as punk pioneers. There’s no question when Patti married Fred she foresaw a John and Yoko type of collaborative musical scene. They were going to make albums, tour etc. But like so many plans made by couples in the early days of their romance, reality robbed her of those victories.
LAN: In England, May 1976, Patti played 2 dates at the Roundhouse,the next night, Johnny Rotten from the Sex Pistols really dissed Patti’s performances, deeming them hippies. Patti herself felt that it was over. Looking back, do you think this was some kind of a turning point?
Victor: It was not so much Patti as it was the Patti Smith Band’s album, Horses, that rang the call of the new. Horses is it. A great album, a game changer, still sounds fresh, their most valid contribution to the culture. The British punk scene was not as art oriented or romantic as its New York counterpart. Rotten was the #1 punk figure, whose voice and lyrics cut through everything to the hard-core of reality. His criticism of Patti also came out of a long history of English resentment of Americans and their baggage. I’m sure Patti had experienced the hippie slice of life on wonder bread in the summer of love, but she was more influenced by the Velvet Underground than The Big Balloon Band. John was just throwing darts.
LAN: Do you think the lack of commercial viability of punk can be overcome?
Victor:I think it was overcome by Nirvana. Even the Mighty Ramones were superstars in Japan and South America. The main thing about the punks is that like the Beats they never faded away. Punk will never die, but I don’t know a lot of people who learned how to live from disco music. Punk defies commercialism, Punk just is. Everyone who cares passionately about what they do and will never give up is a punk.
LAN: What would be YOUR ”Outrageous Lie”?
Victor: That I am just getting started, that you haven’t seen anything yet, that I’m a gift to the women of this world.
LAN: You never give up don’t you, punk! I can’t wait to see what you have been up to!! Thanks so much for your time!!
”The literary outpout of the short-lived punk movement has been largly ignored. No one came close to Patti Smith at the time in terms of her recognition as a writer.”-Victor Bockris
I have already read and reviewed ”Just Kids” and ”M Train” before here on LANso I thought that by now I had a pretty accurate and complete picture of Patti Smith: Poet, punk prophet, feminist icon, rock writer; a punk-rock star mixing her distinct voice and poetry with rock and roll music. I was so wrong. Unforgettable, ”Just Kids” gives you a pretty complete picture of her childhood and early days, highlighting her relationship with now famous photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, the Chelsea Hotel day while ”M Train” picks up years later with a more disheveled, haunting narrative but reading Victor Bockris 1998 UK edition of Patti Smith’s bio published by Fourth Estate, placing her at the centre of the New York underground that included, amongst many others, Andy Warhol, Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Blondie, Jim Carroll and William Burroughs, Victor Bockris’s biography investigates the private world behind the celebrity and gives you a very intimate, in-depth, exhaustive portrait of the playwright/poet/punk rock singer/composer who gave us (to cite only this one) Horses, an album viewed by critics as one of the greatest and most influential albums in the history of the American punk rock movement, as well as one of the greatest albums of all time. Her 2 most recent novels”Just Kids” and ”M Train” are also best sellers and both won various very well deserved awards, furthermore her earlier poetry books have also received critical and popular acclaim. Patti is also one the most direct conspicuous link between the Beats and the early New York punk movement since her career was as stunning as a writer than it was as a punk-rock singer-songwriter.
Bockris goes through Patti’s life starting with her childhood and strict religious upbringing in South Jersey and Patti’s earliest influences (Patti Smith has been influenced by artists as diverse as Arthur Rimbaud, Bob Dylan, Antoni Artaud, Jimi Hendrix, William Blake, Henri Michaux and the Rolling Stones), her escape to New York where the Andy Warhol’s Factory was in full swing by 1967, her meeting with Mapplethorpe and the crowd that was hanging out at Max Kansas City, her staying at the Chelsea hotel where she would meet her most precious literary mentors as well as her rock’n’roll heroes. Bockris dynamic narrative alternates with wisely chosen interviews excerpts or quotes, the primary source of information being provided by Patti herself throughout the many interviews she has given during her career. The first interview done by Bockris in 1972, on the occasion of the publication of her first book ”Seventh Heaven”, ”provides a paradigm for all the Patti Smith interviews that were to come, illustrating how she has always been able to take the most mundane question and weave her answer into a piece of spoken poetry.” Of course, to the readers’ pleasure, this memorable interview is duly generously provided in its entirety in the Sources Notes.Furthermore that section of the book gives you a very clear overview on the extent and the quality of the research and the references used throughout the whole book. The people quoted, those who conducted interviews with the author as well as the sources themselves (books, magazines, newspapers, underground fanzines, etc.). All extremely pertaining to Patti and the people she knew as well as her cultural surroundings.
If you check out the complete works of our esteemed chronicler of the New York Underground, Patti Smith clearly constitutes a very important link between Beats, hippies and punks as well as between poetry and live musical performance. Making Patti the hinge as well as the source of many things to come on a musical, literary and social level. One could say that the first part of her life was somehow a tribute to those whom she considered to be her heroes. ”I’ve spent half to three-quarters of my life sucking from other people and now I’d like to give some‘‘ Patti says in that same 1972 first interview with Bockris mentioned earlier.
The Chelsea Hotel was a heady place to be in the late sixties and the early seventies; Allen Ginsberg, Arthur Miller, Arthur Clark,Jim Carroll, Janis Joplin, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan and of course William Burroughs amongst many, many others were hanging out at the Chelsea and all of them had a big influence on Patti. People from the Warhol’s Factory were also still very active and everything was set for the changing of guard to happen on a reading that took place at St Mark’s Church on February 10th 1971, before a very unconventional but eclectic crowd. St Marks was a very classic poetry venue, where Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs and all of our poets performed and it was quite an honor to perform there. The event was hosted by Gerard Malanga who, ”despite recently having been dismissed from the Warhol’s Factory for the second time in two years, was still looked upon as and looked like, a bona fide Warhol Superstar.”
Bockris vividly recalls: ”Patti appeared promptly at 8 p.m. accompanied in the background by the lanky figure of Lenny Kaye. The audience gasped with astonishment. She was a figure of the future standing before them, looking like something like many of them had never seen. The raw, rasping, heavily New Jersey accent with which she addressed the crowd gave Patti’s reading its edge that night. The content of her work leant heavily towards the sexual, mixing up male and female without concern. She also revealed a sharp sense of timing by alternating the works she read on her own with the ones she read with Lenny’s backing, and by keeping the set to a tight twenty-minute (…)She had the confidence to machine-gun her poems at the sophisticated if slightly stunned crowd. Patti ‘took’ St Marks that night. Malanga, whose reading was a superb and passionate rendition of some of his best work, was still the centre of attention at Max’s later on, but Lenny Kaye recognized that the changing of guard started on that very evening. And within a year the rockers would have taken over Max’s and other cultural outposts from the artists and poets…”
Patti Smith then willingly takes on the part of being a rock star without really leaving poetry behind, rather fusing performance, acting, poetry and punk rock. Hence becoming a role-model for the first women in rock… Punk by nature. She was amongst the first ones to play the infamous CBGB OMFUG, headliningfor the band Television, Tom Verlaine. Richard Lloyd and Richard Hell later replaced by Fred ”Sonic” Smith formerly from the Detroit garage band rock legends, the MC5who were heavy influences on the punk movement to soon follow. More than just another loud blues-rock band, the MC5 were endeared by fans for their anti-establishment lyrics. The band’s use of itself as a political voice inspired future generations to do the same. Fred ”Sonic” Smith later formed the Sonic’s Rendezvous Band with Scott Morgan, Gary Rasmussen and Scott Ashton, formerly of the Stooges . The bandSonic Youth took its name from Fred Smith’s nickname.
At age 31, Fred Smith married and raised a family with Patti and the couple collaborated musically. He was the inspiration for her song “Frederick”, a single from her 1979 album Wave. Unfortunately the only album he produced with Patti Smith, Dream of Life (1988) had a very poor reception. Together the Smiths had a son, Jackson (born 1982) and a daughter, Jesse (born 1987). In these chapters, Bockris reveals a whole different aspect to the persona of Patti who had by then almost become a stay at home mum if it wasn’t for her amazing capacity to absorb from other writers and artists in general as well as always, always make poetry of everyone and everything that surrounds her in one way or another. Bockris has a very objective, non-judgmental point of view on that part of her life and it’s very fortunate because a lot of people and the medias have been quite narrow-minded towards some choices she made back then on the way she wanted to lead her life. I have to admit that for my part I don’t think anyone should have the right to judge anyone else’s choice, whether they are celebrities or not.
The death of Patti’s beloved husband on November 4th 1994 obviously was a huge loss. Patti Smith speaks of how Fred Smith encouraged her writing, crediting his influence on a number of the songs she released after his death, as well as the prose works she created during their time together in Michigan. Her 1996 album Gone Again features several songs inspired by, co-written by, or in tribute to, her late husband. In Bockris bio you will have a very in-depth look on how Patti managed to make a well deserved comeback and is now viewed for what she is. Her life has been made of ups and downs but I always thought that it’s in defeat that you see a real winner for they always manage to come back. Mohammad Ali was one of Patti’s inspirational model and poet. He had found his very own unique way to be a poet in life and to make his life a work of art, being a parental figure his kids could look up too, a loyal husband and grateful son, living his life as he dreamed he should be living it, exactly like Patti. ”By 1996 she had metamorphosed from an entertainer into that position Richard Hell had prophesied in his 1974 essay on ‘celebrity as an art form’ . Such a character is a living piece of American history, a walking icon, like Andy Warhol, Muhammad Ali, Jackie Kennedy and, in her small world, Patti Smith.”
I have learned to love Patti Smith first through her books, than through her music but now Victor Bockris has allowed me to acknowledge her lifestyle and thinking as work of art as well. She has paid many tributes to various writers, musicians, actors, poets and painters that she held high in her esteem. It now seems only appropriate that we now in turn pay tribute to Patti Smith who is all that. In his biography ”Patti Smith” Bockris has done just that as well as giving a voice to all those who were worthy to pay her homage.
Allow me to leave you with one last quote, cherry picked from the bio, describing Patti Smith performing at CBGB’s, written by Charles Shaar Murray for the New Musical Express: ”She can generate more intensity with a single movement of one hand than most rock performers can produce in an entire set. She’s an odd little waif figure in a grubby black suit and black satin shirt, so skinny that her clothes hang baggily all over her, with chopped-off black hair and a face like Keith Richards’ kid sister would have if she’d gotten as wasted by age seventeen as Keith is now. She stands there machine-gunning out her lines, singing a bit and talking a bit, in total control, riding it and steering it with a twist of a shoulder here, a flick of the writ there — scaled-down bird-like movements that carry an almost unbelievable degree of power, an instinctive grasp of the principles of mime that teach that the quality and timing of her gesture are infinitely more important than its size. Her closing tour de force, an inspired juxtaposing of ‘Land of 1,000 Dances’ with a rock poem about a kid getting beaten up in a locker room, was undoubtedly the most gripping performance that I’ve seen by a white act since the last time I saw the Who”
All about the NYC’s notorious Mudd Club where art and music intersect with sex, drugs and the slumming glittering elite by Richard Boch!
“I was a Long Island kid that graduated college in 1976 and moved to Greenwich Village. Two years later, I was working The Mudd Club door. Standing outside, staring at the crowd, it was “out there” versus “in here” and I was on the inside. The Mudd Club was filled with the famous and soon- to- be famous, along with an eclectic core of Mudd regulars who gave the place its identity. Everyone from Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jeff Koons, and Robert Rauschenberg to Johnny Rotten, The Hell’s Angels, and John Belushi: passing through, passing out, and some, passing on. Marianne Faithful and Talking Heads, Frank Zappa, William Burroughs, and even Kenneth Anger– just a few of the names that stepped on stage. No Wave and Post- Punk artists, musicians, filmmakers, and writers living in a nighttime world on the cusp of two decades. This book is a cornucopia of memories and images, and how this famed wicked downtown club attained the status of midtown and uptown. There was nothing else like it– I met everyone, and the job quickly defined me. I thought I could handle it, and for a while, I did. ”
I was expecting a lot when I picked up Patti Smith’s best seller ”M Train”. Her previous novel (best seller as well) ”Just Kids” had a very profound effect on the way I perceive whatever life throws my way, especially the bad stuff. After ”Just Kids”, I somehow felt I would never be quite alone again and that all my beloved writers would always be there for me, already having accepted to share their deepest, most sincere intimate feelings at length on pretty much everything that really matters. All those miraculous novels holding a mysterious key could help me solve one of many riddles hidden in our seemingly insignificant lives, unlocking secluded passageways and concealed doors .
”Just Kids” is a touching story of unconditional love and friendship, two struggling, ascending artists who dearly rely on each other for help and support, whatever happens. Patti and Robert’s linear, chronological narrative differs a lot from Patti’s train of thoughts; that ”green train with an ”M” in a cercle; a faded green like the back of a preying mantis.” Series of small short scenes, delightful slices of life. Always having innocent seemingly facts invariably leading to another philosophical journey into Patti’s heart and soul, delivered to the reader without vanity, in a very intimate matter of speech. Her thoughts seemingly being instantaneously translated into words: ”When I was young I had the notion to think and write simultaneously, but I could never keep up with myself.” I was ready to sit next to Patti’s table at Cafe ‘Ino, wanting to share the intimacy of her ever flowing thoughts, eager to learn what had become of that girl I had learned to admire and love so much.
Patti is a woman with a fascinating story, putting things in a brand new perspective, showing us how different our life could be seen if we dared to focus and realise how each and every moment is rich of its very own history, how every little object has a story to tell if you can be kind enough to let it speak and have the courtesy to listen. Thanks again Patti for giving me solace in the present, allowing me to remember that each minute passing by is an opportunity to let the world know that everything is changing before our very eyes. No one else can make you embrace the life you were given, never forgetting to pay tribute of those who tried so very hard that they got swallowed in that moment, forgetting that there is always tomorrow… Akutagawa, Dazai and Sylvia Plath, to name only a few of those mentioned in the book. ”M Train” is also an ultimate tribute to all of those that Patti held in very high esteem, modestly sharing her enthusiasm for the work of masters like Bulgakov, Jean Genest, Burroughs, Murakami, Kurosawami, Tolstoi, the Beats and many, many others throughout the book.
Most of all ”M Train” speaks of times spent with her loved ones, we can feel Fred ”Sonic” Smith’s (guitarist from Detroit band MC5)spirit all through the book, all across the globe where Patti’s tales takes us, she left a little part of her everywhere with everyone because Patti is a generous soul and if she is very sensitive, she is also very strong and no matter what, the memory of those she has loved or still loves is always at reach, hidden in the bottom of the pockets of an old black coat, she can almost feel it with the tip of her fingers and it makes her happy. And it makes her sad…: ”We want things we cannot have. We seek to reclaim a certain moment, sound, sensation. I want to hear my mother’s voice. I want to see my children as children. Hands small. feet swift. Everything changes. Boys grown. father dead, daughter taller than me, weeping from a bad dream. Please stay forever, I say to the things I know. Don’t go, don’t grow.”
INTERVIEW WITH VICTOR AUTHOR EDITOR DESIGNER SITUATIONIST BOCKRIS
Intro:The first thing I would say about Making Tracks: The Rise of Blondie is that it was a book of photographs by the band’s leader and, in collaboration with Debbie Harry, premiere song writer, Chris Stein. Stein was no fly by night paparazzi, by the time he met Debbie in 1972 he had already studied depth and perception photography at Cooper Union and started collecting photographs. While she was still singing with the female trio The Stilettoes, he was making inroads into punk by quitting his glitter band and letting the first Ramones live in his Lower East Side apartment. Meanwhile, Chris moved into Debbie’s Thompson Street pad and started playing with The Stilettoes. Soon thereafter he began contributing pictures of Blondie to Punk Magazine. By the time I met them on the night of the great New York Blackout in July 1977, I was developing a role as the only writer who went back and forth between The Beat Writers, Andy Warhol and the New York Punk bands, and wanted to write about all of them as a new generation. We got a wonderful editor in Fred Jordan, who had been one of the first Grove Press editors and was now running the U.S. branch of the famous British publisher, Methuen.
Across the universe of writing and designing the book both publisher and authors went through significant changes. During May 1982 when the book was released almost simultaneously in New York and London, Methuen was no more and Blondie had shifted down through changes which included Harry’s first solo album Koo Koo. We were now with Fred Jordan Books in New York distributed by Dell and Hamish Hamilton in London, editor Roger Houghton. Both editions of the book were launched at lavish openings of Stein’s photographs at the Daniel Wolf Gallery in New York and David Dawson’s B2 Gallery in London. Despite this focus on Stein’s fine set of pictures, Jordan’s ability to sell the book to Hamilton for a $50,000 advance was primarily due to Debbie Harry’ autobiographical text, written in collaboration with myself and Chris. However, what had started as a labour of love ended on a negative note when Bondies’ manager coerced the world right’s back from Jordan but never got deals for the four more foreign editions we could have had in Germany. Italy, Holland and Japan. Agents can make all the difference in a case like this, but we had no one to turn to. For me the subsequent loss of revenue without discussion turned the successful collaboration into a route. The book sold well in the U.K. but virtually disappeared in the States. At first Chris and Debbie took quantities of the book on the road, selling them at their concerts until the band broke up a year later in 1983. We would have to wait for another thirteen years before the three of us would have the opportunity to launch Making Tracks again.-Victor Bockris
LAN: Debbie seemed to be part of the scene for a very long time, maybe not as an artist at first but I’m curious to know when was the very first time you met her.
Victor Bockris: Yeah Debbie was a Slum Goddess of The Lower East Side in the late sixties. She began to get it together around the New York Dolls in the early Seventies. Blondie had their first #1 in Australia with In The Flesh in 1977. I first met Debbie and Chris at the apartment of a photographer Christopher Makos 227 Waverley Place on the night of the great New York Blackout, July 13. The room was pitch black so I could not see her, but I recognized her the minute we met. Next thing I knew I was in the back of the Frontiersman’s van with Debbie, Chris Stein and Liz Derringer on the way to Makos opening for hisWhite Trash book. In an appropriation of Warhol’s cover of the Rolling Stones raunchy Sticky Fingers, Makos put a shot of Debbie’s crotch in a tight black miniskirt on the cover of his White Trash book. I made my entry into this scene wearing a tiger skin bikini in the back pages of Makos catalogue of trash.
LAN: What were you first impressions?
Victor Bockris: I had already seen Blondie perform at CBGB’s with a bunch of people from the Factory in 1975 and 76. Everybody liked her but Debbie was still so lacking in confidence she was not carrying her performances to completion. By the blackout meeting she had grown stronger. It was such a smooth part of my 1977 transformation, my impressions of Debbie and her partner Chris Stein were seamless. I felt very much a part of the scene for the first time since 1974, hanging out with Debbie and Chris extended my territory. Soon I was taking them to meet my people as they introduced me to theirs. Threads of Punk wove together with Beat and Warhol threads. The Beat Punk Generation was beginning to get up and walk.
LAN: What were the events leading to your involvement in the writing of Making Tracks/The Rise of Blondie.
Victor Bockris: They had started to talk to me about Chris Stein’s photographs at the time I was writing With William Burroughs. In fact they were in the Burroughs book. Working on Tracks began with a recording of a Dinner with Andy Warhol. It took me a long time to realize all we needed for the text was Debbie’s account of the Blondie Story to compliment Chris’ photographs of the same. I wrote a proposal and we soon got an exciting offer from Fred Jordan at Methuen in New York. This thrilled me because Jordan was one of the three men who started Grove Press, which published many of the ground breaking books of the 1960s. And Methuen was a British publisher with a long list of distinguished authors including Oscar Wilde. I was looking to connect the Beats, Warhol and the Punks so this was right my street.
LAN: How would you define what was your role in the writing of Making Tacks/The Rise of Blondie?
Victor Bockris: They looked to me like a producer, they were trying to figure out how to put books together. They thought I knew. I look back on my collaboration with Debbie and Chris as among the best in my career. But I’m not so impressed by my contribution. At first at my suggestion we took Makos on board as art designer, but Makos treated Chris in a ridiculous way. He over charged him to print up some pictures doing a lousy job that made them look bad. After Debbie fired him over the phone I put together a mock-up the book all three of us liked. That was when we really started collaborating on the book. I managed to carve a good text out of many tapes with Debbie then Debbie and Chris. When we got through that Debbie went to Toronto to film Videodrome. Chris and I stayed in New York and came up with an excellent design for all the book’s interior pages. I cherish my memories of working with them individually and together.
LAN: A recorded conversation between you, Debbie and Chris, used as the prologue raised many questions in my mind. Could you explain why you chose to use this conversation as a prologue?
Victor Bockris: I thought it caught the three-way humor that kept the book from taking itself too seriously.
LAN: In your opinion is Blondie linked to the empowerment of women, a movement that most probably spurred the career of artists like the Runaways, Siouxie Sioux, Chrissie Hynde and many others?
Victor Bockris: Debbie had an enormous influence on opening the pop – rock scene for women. Madonna comes out of Debbie. There’s a great color photo in the book of Debbie with Chrissie Hynde, Siouxie Sioux and others that says it all. Blondie was good to her friends, the band was good to the scene, it helped spread reggae and rap among others things. Debbie is undoubtedly a great heroine of the counterculture, particularly the downtown punk scene and beat punk scenes of the high seventies. One reason I wanted to work on a book with her was to extend her talents into other fields. I cannot believe she has not written one of the great biographies of her times. She has a huge story to tell. Maybe I should call her up.
LAN: You most definitely should! Why do you think Blondie got a better reception at an international level than many other bands from New York?
Victor Bockris: Blondie’s international success in the 1970s and today comes from the vision to go on a world tour before they were a world band. Their early success in Australia came about because they went there. Secondly their music and songs were easy to translate, and thirdly because Debbie had by far the most sellable image and she and Chris worked endlessly touring radio stations to connect with DJs. Most partnerships in rock n roll are between men. Debbie and Chris may be the most successful long-term male/female collaboration in the business. They are really good people.
LAN: How was the book received when it was published?
Victor Bockris: The book was poorly published in the U.S. But Fred Jordan got us a $50,000 advance in the U.K. which was unbelievably great and Hamish Hamilton in London, with editor Roger Houghton, did a fine job. However, when Blondie’s manager insisted Jordan return the world rights thus cutting off any further foreign publications the book was virtually but not completely dead. I had depended on the book having at least five foreign deals so I was very disappointed. Rock’n’roll is a multileveled business. At the time they are completing a new album and planning a huge world tour. The power of their upcoming world tour took them out of my orbit. The next time I saw Debbie and Chris was backstage in Philadelphia that August were they played in front of 50,000 people and Chris Stein looked like a ghost in a Fellini movie. Making Tracks got a lot of notices in the press, but no serious reviews. I think part of the reason was that it was really a book of photographs by Chris Stein but it was sold as the autobiography of Debbie Harry. However it did have lasting influences on many people who read it and it would find a longer life in the following decade. And again now.
LAN: Do you know why it is that, when Blondie co-founders Chris Stein and Debbie Harry reformed the group in 1997 for Blondie Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, they “forgot” to invite bassist Nigel Harrison or guitarist Frank Infante, leading to the Hall of Fame incident that left a lot of people speechless and the bad blood never quite trickled away?
Victor: Infante and Harrison had sued them or were in process of suing them. Don’t forget Debbie and Chris were left to deal with all the band’s post 83 breakup fallout including financial on their own. When they reformed the band in second half 1990s they were under no obligation so far as I know to take anybody on, except Clem. When they first hit big instead of being grateful to Chris and Debbie for writing the hits and working 75% harder than the rest of the band did in their heyday everybody got incredibly paranoid and there was a lot of aggressive infighting, which messed up he music and wasted their energies. Ex band members often sue because lawyers tell them they can get some free money. I’m glad Debbie did what she did, she shouldn’t have had to go through that on Blondie’s inauguration into the ROCK N ROLL HALL OF FAME.
LAN: What is the main difference between Blondie the band, and Debbie Harry? In other words, what was the main contribution Chris Stein brought to the table?
Victor:Chris Stein and Debbie Harry’s forty-five year collaboration on making music and running Blondie stands out among the greatest male-female collaboration of all time. It has gone through many phases, but to answer your question, in its first stages between 1972-1975 Debbie and Chris equally transformed each other by making music making love and banging heads. They both came from backgrounds that left them creatively intact but insecure in the delivery. They soon became a part of the CBGB’s scene, but throughout the years the tight unit they forged in the cauldron of New York’s downtown scene from Watergate to Drop Dead New York in the ragged summer of 75 would always remain the single strength beating at the heart of Blondie.
LAN: Thank you so much for your precious time I know you are very busy right now and I wish you the very best, hoping that with Blondie’s new release of ”Pollinator’‘, people will feel the urge to read Making Tracks/The Rise of Blondie as an autobiography or a photo album, either way ,it still is a wonderful book that has aged very well.
”51” was a magazine that was based on the idea that New York City should be the fifty-first state of the US. This is article written by Debbie Harry, was taken from the bio Making Tracks/The Rise of Blondie published by Da Capo Press. I chose to immortalise this article on the net since it’s almost impossible to get it from its original source and it really represents how things could be seen from the inside, by those who were part of this legendary era. It an honest, lucid look on how that particular scene was evolving coming from of an artist whose band Blondie was on its way to achieve international stardom. All the pictures were added by me. I hope they are helping setting the tone. -Tobe Damit
”51” Magazine, NYC, Late Summer of 1975
I walked into CBGB’s last Friday night at 2 a.m. The Bowery was thick with late night pollution and smog, a sea of sleeping winos, and broken glass.
Dee Dee Ramone spotted me through a Heineken Haze and slithered up wearing an electric purple pimp suit, a Jay’s T-shirt, ragged basketball sneakers and mirror shades.
Swaying slightly, he whispered in my ear, Oh Debbie, we just got signed; we’re supposed to be going on tour. I smiled. I wondered: Will Success Spoil… Dee Dee is bass player to The Ramones, consummate, awesome, punk rockers extraordinaire. The handsomest of the group, Dee Dee resembles Marcello Mastroianni or Steve Canyon, speaks German (born Berlin), was a highly paid hairdresser for a while, is very charming, handsome and childlike.
The Next day was ninety-seven degrees and I ran into Tommy Ramone, drummer and leader of the band, in front of Arthur Treacher’s on Sixth Avenue. Tommy, I heard you got signed, I quipped. He flashed me his disgusted look, Yeah, we got signed to the space program, three sets a night on the nest moon shot. I didn’t take it any further; it was very hot.
But for a few exceptions the NYC rock scene is built on dreams and fantasy. Dreams of love and power, of polite fascism and opulent anarchy: the have and have-nots; EEE, erotism, eccentricity, and eclecticism. It is more than fitting than that scene has filtered down to one tiny club on the Bowery. The expensive thoughts of all concerned could never have been contained in anything larger or more plush. (Except for Sunday evenings with the Miamis at Broadway Charlie’s, Miamis are not too tight with the manager of CBGB’s.)
The rock and roll sub-culture coexists easily with the wraith-like alkies; the angry young black men; with the emptiness and ruin of America’s attics, basements, and secret corners. Places where the out takes and out casts collect. Poverty Marches On… What the Hell: a bass player (now with the Heartbreakers) with so much sex appeal it could lead anyone, male of female into groupiedom, revolution be damned.
As I hinted at, an occasional glimpse of success is not uncommon here at CBGB’S house bar. Last Thursday played host to the magnificent men of Kiss, playing homage to their old friends the Harlots of 42nd Street, who were doing their best to entertain the natives. Other notable drop-ins were Mick Ronson (ohh) and Ian Hunter (ahhh) who surprised everyone no end, including the Fast who promptly set up and played a second hot set on an otherwise dead night at the rock palace.
A few of the Bowery denizen have succeeded in related fields. Fayette Hauser, Gorilla Rose and Tomata du Plenty, who are behind the scenes Hollywood writers for the new nationally broadcast Manhattan Transfer TV show. I do mean behind the scenes they’re still in NYC, but word has it that they’ll be getting some fresh OJ off their own tree within the month.
Just One More Thing . . . The great tower of power moloch Mainman is closing up shop. Mainman produced some fabulous shows like Wayne County at the Trucks, FAME, and Bowie, so much for EEE.
I just finished reading Debbie Harry’s biographyMaking Tacks/The Rise of Blondiewritten by herself, Chris Stein(photographs) and under the general supervision of Victor Bockriswho aided in the formation of the text and the selection of the photographs. It seemed the perfect time to read and review it since she just announced the release of Pollinator, Blondie’s 11th album, due for release on May 5, 2017 by BMG Rights Management. I was really looking forward to read this book since Blondie is a band whose music would be omnipresent on ”the soundtrack of my life’s movie”, if such a thing would indeed exist. Blondie has always managed to preserve their uniqueness and integrity throughout the years. Making Tracks/The Rise of Blondie is a story of perseverance, hope and faith. Seeing how often everything could have just gone down the drain, this is the ultimate proof that you really have to give it all you’ve got to make it… Sometimes even giving it what you haven’t got…Yet!
The prologue (added in the 1998 Da Capo Edition) is in fact a very juicy conversation between Debbie Harry, Chris Stein and Victor Bockris, recorded in 1980 when Blondie was at the top, during which it appears that Chris may hold the upper hand in their couple, a subject that is rather downplayed otherwise. It also sets the tone for the lavish story, the rocky early days and the forces at work behind the creation process since Chris and Debbie obviously are at the very core of Blondie. For the rest of the book, the story is told almost exclusively from Debbie’s point of view, constantly keeping us captivated with a very uplifting, spontaneous, straight forward and wittynarrative . She goes on and about everything and everyone meaningful in her life; ”I don’t know exactly where I came from because I don’t know who my natural parents are. Chris thinks I’m definitely an alien because I fit the description in a book he read of a race of females who were put on this planet from space”. Right in this first sentence, one can immediately sense the hurting and the wounds but also the way Debbie has learned to deal with it, and how Chris later came into play. Young Deborah knew what she was destined to be before the age of six and never wavered in her firm conviction; ”I always knew I was a singer. When I began singing with the radio I was struck by the fact that I knew the next note before it was played.”
Very early on, she was a trendsetter during her High School days, dying her hair every possible color starting as soon as 1959 and always dressed in black, not giving much thought to what would people might say. ”When I was a freshman I started to draw attention to myself, with the orange hair and mostly black clothes(…)I always dressed intuitively and emotionally”.
Making Tracks/The Rise of Blondie gives a very moving image of how Debbie was trying to become an artist during the mid sixties, working small jobs, going to auditions and painting. She was already singing in a folk group called Wind in the Willows. It was hardbut at the same time we get to see how much that, from the sidelines, working as a waitress at Max’s Kansas Cityby the end of the sixties, she observed, watched and learned.”When I worked at Max’s I loved all the people from Andy Warhol Factory, like Eric Emerson, Viva, Ingrid, Taylor Mead, Ultra Violet, International Velvet, Candy Darling, and all the superstars. I was just a baby growing up in the middle of this whole incredible scene, watching Andy Warhol’s eight-hours movies and listening to all kinds of fantastic music very close up at the front.”
Now of course you also get to know, in parallel, what was up with Chris Stein, how his mother was a beatnik painter and his father died when he was only 15, how he also always was into music, painting and arts in general. He is responsible for most of the incredible amount of wonderful pictures that can be found throughout the book, giving a visual dimension for each period that Debbie takes us through. Chris and Debbie went to a lot of events and shows at the same time but it took awhile before they would bump into each other. They had very similar tastes and both enjoyed seeing live the Velvet Underground, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane. Each of them were being influenced by both the NYC and the LA scene. Chris had his own isssues, he’d taken a lot of acid and was experiencing long periods of seeing everything as cosmic dust(!). He even received his draft notice at the beginning of ’69 while in an asylum, where he spent three months after completely flipping out. He was twenty at the time and this was a delayed reaction to his father’s death. He managed to insist he had all that was needed to be NOT eligible to join the war effort, got out of there with a 4F and rushed up to Woodstock. Debbie was there too, she had served Jefferson Airplane their dinner at Max’s the night before they left for Woodstock. They just didn’t know each other yet so they went separately, never bumping into each other.
Debbie had a lot of issues of her own, being so depressed that she couldn’t sing without bursting into tears. For a while she managed to keep it all together by using various drugs but 1969 was a very pivotal year for everyone. ”Paying for the drugs and doing them became a bigger drag than the problems I was trying to solve(…)It was a tremendously down period and we all had to shake off the freakouts that occurred in ’68 and ’69(…)All that sadness and tragedy just kept going through my head. I love the blues, but I didn’t want to sing them. I wanted to entertain people, have a good time, and be happy.”
So, she quits drugs and took a sabbatical from the whole scene for three years, during which time Chris, having been released from the asylum for good, went on welfare and, sponsored by the division of vocational rehabilitation, was studying photography at the School of Visual Arts, and making some of the connections that would eventually lead to the fatefull event of Debbie and Chris finally meeting.
Debbie gives us a very detailed description of what she was trying to accomplish musically with The Stillettoes who were Elda Gentile, Rosie Ross (later replaced by Amanda) and Debbie; ”a combination of the aggressive Shangri-La’s rock and the round solid vocals of an R&B girl group. The overall idea was to be entertaining and danceable. The original group included Tommy and Jimmy from the Miamis, Timothy Jackson and Youngblood. Tony Ingrassia was the choreographer and worked on giving them a cohesive look so that they each had a stage concept.”
Chris became involved with Eric Emerson and the Magic Tramps via the School of Visual Arts by becoming the Dolls’ opening act, and quickly became friends with all those people who hung out on the periphery of the Dolls, eventually becoming Eric’s roadie. He was invited to the second Stillettoes gig at the Boburn Tavern on 28th Street by Elda herself who was the mother of Eric’s children. ”The most striking thing about collaboration is that it often happens in dreams. A microsecond of dream will unfold an elaborate scene in a flash.It’s an amazing form of communication and it happened between Chris and me the first time we saw each other when I was singing and he was in the audience(…) I was very nervous so I delivered a lot of songs to him. We had a psychic connection right away, which struck me particularly because I’d previously only had such string psychic connections with girlfriends”. Chris joined the group on Elda’s request.
Now I gave you a very detailed insight of the early days but the book is even more exhaustive, leaving absolutely no stones unturned as the group slowly takes shape, requiring numerous musicians replacements, new musical directions, new looks and styles, the final result of all this evolution being the band worldy known today as Blondie -always having at it’s very core Debbie and Chris Stein. Reading it you really feel as if you are right there with them, reliving every moment and all aspects of what was to become a very unique band, not really punk, not really disco, Debbie insists on saying that Blondie was a pop band, nothing more, nothing less. Making Tracks/The Rise of Blondie is a very fascinating journey to the top with all its up and downs, the tours, the crazy people, the shady promoters, the providential roadies, the tragic and the funny anecdotes, and everything stardom life is about. Chris Stein and Debbie Harry being always the very core of Blondie, you get to see them on various pictures with all the punk and post punk icons as they go on tour around the world several times, living their success with an integrity as persons and artists that is rarely seen.
Starting on the Bowery’s very distinct selective CBGB’s club with The Ramones and all the other bands that have now become legends, Blondie was to later gain international success and go around the world more than once to become one of the most successful bands to have risen from NYC. Here are a few people that you can see with Debbie and/or members of the band on photos included in the book: Alice Cooper, Iggy Pop, Devo, H.R. Giger, Siouxie, Chrissie Hynde, Andy Warhol, The Screamers, David Bowie, Ray Manzarek, Suzie Quatro, Joan Jett, Cherie Curie, The Buzzcocks, The Screamers, The Ramones to name very few, thanks to Chris Stein who really did an amazing photography job!
You also have a very interesting insight on various projects she was involved with like Blank Generation, a seminal movie about Richard Hell, a remake of Godard’s movie Alphaville that sadly has never seen the day, a promotional clip involving HR Giger ‘‘I Know You Know”. I also happened to watcha cult sci-fi horrormovie from 1982: ”Videodrome”, directed by David Cronenberg. Deborah Harry plays the role of Nicki Brand, a sadomasochistic psychiatrist and radio host. I found Debbie’s performance more than satisfying and the movie to be very prophetic.
The book doesn’t contain the usual formal complete list of everything Blondie or its members have been involved with nor a complete discography but rather focuses on the narrative and it’s quite ok since it’s done in a way to sustain the readers interest in the story Debbie tells with a surprising gift for writing. Such a list would have been a cool addition but I’m pretty sure it’s not that hard to find on the internet.
Making Tracks is not only about The Rise of Blondie but also about how they all handled its success. It does not contain a complete discography nor every movie she has played in Every true Blondie fan should read this book since it contains everything you want to know delivered with Debbie’s very witty way of seeing things that always sustains your interest since it is written from a very intimate point of view; and as I mentioned the photos are a very important ingredient in making the reader ”part of the gang”. The whole story is very cohesive and never boring. I will leave you with this quote written by Debbie near the end of the Heart of Glass European Tour that I found very interesting as she compares the UK culture with the US:
”Politics is business-getting enough money to win, keeping enough to stay in power and make more as a politician. The politicization of art in the sixties was very hypocritical. It existed in the minds of the people who wanted it to exist, but the people who were in power were definitely not having anything to do with it.
I don’t think there’s too much difference between the Americans and British scenes, Everybody wants the same thing for themselves and their culture, but the methods have to be different because of the differences in the way the cultures operate. In America Iggy was a radical force without saying anything political. His presence and what he did was a radical phenomenon. If somebody can get on the subway and wipe out the minds of the people who see him, he’s having an effect on them and doesn’t need to say anything. I hope the kids in England realise that we all want the same things, we’re just going about it in different ways.”
Penelope Spheeris’ documentary on the Los Angeles punk scene. Filmed between December 1979 and May 1980, featuring Alice Bag Band, Black Flag, Catholic Discipline, Circle Jerks, Fear, Germs, and X was this was the first of aserie of 3 ”Decline movies”.
Featuring interviews, live concert footage, and a feature on how punk was transformed from a trend to a way of life, UK/DK is a comprehensive look at the skinhead/punk movement. Some of the most notorious bands on the scene are featured, including The Exploited, The Vice Squad, The Adicts and many more bands from UK.
Veteran documentary filmmaker and hipster Lech Kowalski creates this film about his friend and hard-partying rock god Johnny Thunders,member of legendary proto-punk band the New York Dolls. Through archive footage and interviews with such musicians as Dee Dee Ramone and Sylvain Sylvain, the film details his stint with the Dolls, the formation of his other band, the Heartbreakers; his rise to fame, particularly in Japan; his descent into heroin addiction, and the mysterious circumstances of his death in a New Orleans hotel room in 1991. Born to Lose: The Last Rock ‘n’ Roll Movie also contains some rarely seen concert performances in Max’s Kansas City and the Mudd Club. The photo on the poster is by photographer Marcia Resnick.
From the interviews with seminal bands in their earliest stages, D.O.A features live performances by the Sex Pistols, The Dead Boys, Generation X (with Billy Idol), The Rich Kids, the X-Ray Spex, and Sham 69, with additional music from The Clash, Iggy Pop, and Augustus Pablo to the live coverage of the first Pistols show in America, ”D.O.A: A Rite of Passage” is thus far the ONLY film to truly capture the feel, spirit and philosophy of the era. A near-comatose Sid Vicious is hilarious, as is the truly terrible, ersatz punk band Terry and The Idiots, whose leader is interviewed about the scene throughout the film. The depictions of a very bleak, “no future” England sum it all up as succinctly as the music itself.
Jubilee is a 1978 cult film by Derek Jarman heavily influenced by the 1970s punk aesthetic in its style and presentation. Shot in grainy colour, it is largely plotless and episodic. Location filming took advantage of London neighbourhoods that were economically depressed and/or still contained large amounts of rubble from the London Blitz during WWII. Unlike the others this one is really a movie, not a documentary and that is why I thought it would be interesting to include it on the list. The Plot:When Queen Elizabeth I asks her court alchemist to show her England in the future, she’s transported 400 years to a post-apocalyptic wasteland of roving girl gangs, an all-powerful media mogul, fascistic police, scattered filth, and twisted sex. With Jubilee, legendary British filmmaker Derek Jarman channeled political dissent and artistic daring into a revolutionary blend of history and fantasy, musical and cinematic experimentation, satire and anger, fashion and philosophy. With its uninhibited punk petulance and sloganeering, Jubilee brings together many cultural and musical icons of the time, including Jordan, Toyah Willcox, Little Nell, Wayne County, Adam Ant, and Brian Eno (with his first original film score), to create a genuinely unique, unforgettable vision. Ahead of its time and often frighteningly accurate in its predictions, it is a fascinating historical document and a gorgeous work of film art.
Fresh from making his cinematic debut with The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle, director Julien Temple wrote and directed this short promotional film Punk Can Take It for punk band the U.K. Subs. The promo mixed live performances—shot during the U.K. Subs’ tour to promote the single “Stranglehold”—with a comedic pastiche of Temple’s source material—a Second World War propaganda film London Can Take It, which had shown the plucky Londoners’ resilience to Germany’s bombing campaign. In Temple’s film the U.K. Subs provided the “symphony of war” while Eddie Tudor Pole and Helen Wellington-Lloyd are embattled punks fighting for victory against crass blood-sucking commercialization of the music they love. The U.K. Subs (short for “Subversives”) were among the original bands who led the British punk charge in 1976. Still performing and recording today, this film captures the Subs at an early high point in their career under the pairing of Charlie Harper (vocals) and Nicky Garratt (guitar) who created a blistering output between 1979-1982.
If you were disappointed by the shitty CBGB’s movie made a couple of years back starring Alan Rickman, then you will get a better sense of the energy, talent and musical revolution that took place at CBGB’s in the mid-1970s with this hour-long TV documentary Blitzkrieg Bop . Focussing on The Ramones, Blondie and the The Dead Boys, Blitzkrieg Bop mixes live performance with short interview clips and a racy newscast voiceover. It’s recommended viewing.
Punk: Attitude is a film by Don Letts. It explores the “punk” revolution, genre and following from its beginning in the mid-1970’s up to its effect on modern rock music and other genres. The cast is a veritable list of alternative musicians and directors offering their opinions on what has been called a musical revolution. One of the film’s celebrated attributes comes in the form of its cast, showcasing the who’s who of punk tock/alternative culture contemporaries like David Johansen, Thurston Moore, Henry Rollins, Captain Sensible, Jim Jarmusch, Mick Jones, Jello Biafra, Siouxsie Sioux, and Darryl Jenifer.
From Lemmy filmmaker Wes Orshoski comes the story of the long-ignored pioneers of punk: The Damned, the first punks on wax and the first to cross the Atlantic. This authorized film includes appearances from Chrissie Hynde, Mick Jones (The Clash), Lemmy and members ofPink Floyd, Black Flag, GNR, the Sex Pistols, Blondie, Buzzcocks, and more. Shot around the globe over three years, the film charts the band’s complex history and infighting, as it celebrated its 35th anniversary and found its estranged former members striking out on their own anniversary tour, while still others battle cancer.
Jarmusch has commented: “No other band in rock’n’roll history has rivaled The Stooges’ combination of heavy primal throb, spiked psychedelia, blues-a-billy grind, complete with succinct angst-ridden lyrics, and a snarling, preening leopard of a front man who somehow embodies Nijinsky, Bruce Lee, Harpo Marx, and Arthur Rimbaud. There is no precedent forThe Stooges, while those inspired by them are now legion.“He added that the film “is more an ‘essay’ than a document. It’s our love letter to possibly the greatest band in rock’n’roll history, and presents their story, their influences and their impact, complete with some never-before-seen footage and photographs. Like the Stooges and their music, ‘Gimme Danger’ is a little wild, messy, emotional, funny, primitive, and sophisticated in the most unrefined way. Long live The Stooges!”
A movie by Ullie Lommel featuring Richard Hell,Andy Warhol and Carole Bouquet. Nada, a beautiful French journalist on assignment in New York, records the life and work of an up and coming punk rock star, Billy. Soon she enters into a volatile relationship with him and must decide whether to continue with it, or return to her lover, a fellow journalist trying to track down the elusive Andy Warhol. Also a 1976 documentary by the same name HEREfeaturing Patti Smith, Television, Ramones, Blondie and Richard Hell.
“Salad Days: A Decade of Punk in Washington, DC (1980-90)” is a documentary film that examines the early DIY punk scene in the Nation’s Capital. It was a decade when seminal bands like Bad Brains, Minor Threat, Government Issue, Scream, Void, Faith, Rites of Spring, Marginal Man, Fugazi, and others released their own records and booked their own shows—without major record label constraints or mainstream media scrutiny. Contextually, it was a cultural watershed that predated the alternative music explosion of the 1990s (and the industry’s subsequent implosion). Thirty years later, DC’s original DIY punk spirit serves as a reminder of the hopefulness of youth, the power of community and the strength of conviction. There is also an earlier documentary called ‘‘A History of DC Punk” that predates Salad Days’ overlook of the DC Punk scene.
Roxy club disc jockey Don Letts was given a Super 8 camera as a present by fashion editor Caroline Baker.When Letts started to film the acts at The Roxy, it was soon reported that he was making a movie, so Letts determined to film continuously for three months. The film features live footage of The Clash, Sex Pistols, WayneCounty & the Electric Chairs, Generation X, Slaughter and the Dogs, The Slits, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Eater, Subway Sect, X-Ray Spex, Alternative TV and Johnny Thunders and The Heartbreakers. Backstage footage of certain bands, such as Generation X, The Slits and Siouxsie and the Banshees, is also included. All live footage was shot at the Roxy, except that of the Sex Pistols, who were filmed at The Screen On The Green cinema in London on 3 April 1977. The performance was Sid Vicious’ first public concert with the band.
Danny Says is a documentary on the life and times of Danny Fields. Since 1966, Danny Fields has played a pivotal role in music and “culture” of the late 20th century: working for the Doors, Cream, Lou Reed, Nico, Judy Collins and managing groundbreaking artists like the Stooges, the MC5 and the Ramones. Danny Says follows Fields from Phi Beta Kappa whiz-kid, to Harvard Law dropout, to the Warhol Silver Factory, to Director of Publicity at Elektra Records, to “punk pioneer” and beyond. Danny’s taste and opinion, once deemed defiant and radical, has turned out to have been prescient. Danny Says is a story of marginal turning mainstream, avant garde turning prophetic, as Fields looks to the next generation. When I asked Legs McNeil what documentary I should watch, this is the one that he pointed out to me so imagine my joy when I saw it was featrured on Netflix. I’ve watched it twice in a row, and then some more…
Vince Lombardi High School continues to lose its school principles. The students are more concerned with rock ‘n’ roll than their education until the new principle, Miss Evelyn Togar is hired. She promises to set Vince Lombardi High School straight, and get the students focus back on education. However, a Ramones concert is coming to town, and Riff Randall, the biggest Ramones fan at the high school, plans on getting tickets to the concert in order to give them a song that she wrote entitled “Rock N’ Roll High School”. A series of events including Miss Togar taking away Riff’s tickets, a record burning and a taking over of the high school by Vince Lombardi High students and the Ramones, leads to a school evacuation by the police and an even more surprising ending!
Let Malcolm McLaren show you how to achieve fame and fortune by making your pop group the most despised band in the world! This film about the brief but eventful career of The Sex Pistols primarily focuses on McLaren, their manager, as he presents his ten-point program on how to achieve success through chaos, ineptitude, and abusing the music industry. Despite some remarkable footage of The Sex Pistols’ infamous Jubilee Day performance and clips from their final concert in San Francisco, there’s surprisingly little screen time devoted to the group actually performing. Instead, The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle offers McLaren’s agit-prop philosophies on music, culture, politics, and the entertainment industry, as well as an amusing (if often inaccurate) account of the band’s rise and fall. Along the way, we’re also offered some curious animated sequences, “film noir” episodes starring guitarist Steve Jones, footage of the band recording with exiled British train robber Ronnie Biggs, and Sid Vicious singing “My Way” (he had been dead for over a year by the time the movie was released). The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle began life as “Who Killed Bambi?”, a project written by Roger Ebert and directed by Russ Meyer, which closed down after two days of shooting when funding fell through. By the time McLaren and Julien Temple got it off the ground (with a radically different script), Johnny Rotten had left the group, which explains why the band’s front man is hardly in the movie. The rest of the group broke up a few months later. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi
LAN: This is a really in-depth biography, I have read several of your books and never before have you gone so deep into someone’s psyche. What is it about Lou Reed?
Victor Bockris: Transformer is the result of a close friendship with Lou between 1974-1979. This is fromRock’n’Roll Animalto The Bells. A solo workaholic rock star such as Lou is by definition a lonely guy. When I started hanging out with him he was living with a long time girlfriend he had known since 1966 at the Factory. Barbara Hodes had gone to Long Island and helped pull him out of his post Velvet’ slump, also offering him a nest in Manhattan. The first nightAndrew Wylie and I went out drinking with Lou in fall 1974 the three of us were sitting around a table drinking when he suddenly said, “I haven’t felt this happy in years!” I was stunned. The point is Lou was looking for people he could really talk to. He wanted to emote about his life. No bullshit. We were the same way. And once Lou got a friend he wanted that friend to be available to him at any time. We called ourselves Bockris-Wylie. The first thing Lou did was break us up. Then he developed separate relations with both of us. All my time with Lou was spent in his apartment or mine talking about his problems or mine. He gave me much good advice I rely on to this day. Lou opened his psyche to me and that is why I could write about him so accurately. He once gave me a piece of paper on which he had written “From Lou#3 to Lou#8 ‘Hi!’” Writing from a psychological angle was the only way to start a biography of Lou Reed.
LAN:How would you describe the first impression you got from Loud Reed the first time you saw him in person?
Victor Bockris: I first met Lou in 1974 shortly after interviewing William Burroughs, Mick Jagger and Salvador Dali. I did not know that much about him so Bockris-Wylie met him on equal grounds, which probably helped. He was so lovely sweet kind and funny we got into a really cool conversation. I started telling him looked he looked like Frank Sinatra ands he came right back about Sinatra laying down Heroin at the Sands with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra. Then right in front of my eyes Lou transformed into the young Frank. It was so startling I glimpsed something dark in him. I almost fainted and ran to the bathroom trying not to throw up. The whole thing was so connected by the end of the interview he invited us to have dinner with him. Mick Jagger had called in the middle of it and we were committed to sending him a re-edited transcript the following day. So we had to decline. Later in the week we went out for that drink in Answer #1.
LAN: During the years you were the closest to him, What would you say his state of mind was and what seemed to be his main concerns?
Victor Bockris:Lou’s state of mind changed a lot during the five years I knew him. When he started living with Rachel he felt a lot more secure and protected, but he was suing his manager and most of his royalties were in escrow. For a man with an international rep touring the world he was quite poor. Of course Metal Machine Music had blown a hole in his fan base and pissed off a lot of people, but one of Lou’s greatest strengths was his courage to do it ”His Way”. There was also a truly perverse side to Lou that was his greatest weakness and his greatest strength. His greatest concern was making music that rocked but also dug deep into his psyche, likeKill Your Sons. It was amazingly moving to see Lou Reed on stage in those days singing into a storm of abuse – “It’s your life cocksucker Lou REEED ain’t no kind of human being!” – the poor bastard – but theGlory of Love now might just see you through. He was as great as Rimbaud. That was Lou. He was so beautiful he could make you cry.
LAN: At what point did you feel the need to write his biography? How did it happen?
Victor Bockris:In the summer of 1982 Andrew Wylie suggested I write a biography of Andy Warhol, saying he could get me an advance of $100,000. There was a limitation on who I could write about because I had to have spent some time with my subject. From thereon we came up with Keith Richards. In 1992 after I completed the Richards biography Lou Reed was the only big international star I knew well enough to write about. In each case Andrew got me the $100,000 advance. By the time we signed the Lou Reed contract in 1992 my books were being published in six to twelve countries, so were able to sell foreign rights to the Reed book before it was finished.
LAN: Did Lou knew you were writing his bio?
Victor Bockris:He did. In fact I heard that Keith Richards visited Lou shortly after we informed Lou I was going to write his biography. According to a witness Lou cried “I’m next – why me?” And they both cracked up. Lou had always complimented me on magazine articles I’d written about him. I also heard he appreciated my book Uptight: The Velvet Underground Story. The odd thing is that Lou could never have had the career he had without the vast number of highly appreciative well written articles about him from 1972 until his death in 2013, yet he always said he despised rock writers. Actually he befriended number of them across those forty years. I suppose if you are a star you can’t go round saying great book about me. It would not be cool.
LAN: What was the first time and circumstances you saw him performing on stage?
Victor Bockris:At the Felt Forum in Madison Square Garden in 1974. It seats around 4,000 and it was packed. As I indicated in Question 3 in those early years Lou’s concerts were like shock rallies lit by Andy Warhol’s suggestion Lou used the bright white light Albert Speer employed for Hitler’s rallies at Nuremberg. Lou Reed’s hardcore audiences had a love-hate relationship with him on stage, which perfectly reflected his persona and lyrics. As a punk rocker Lou’s art was based on contradictions. Everywhere he went he was offering himself as a conduit for the confused emotions of outsiders. He was their priest.
LAN: You set up quite a few meetings between artists and you arranged for Lou Reed to meet up with Burroughs, I bet you were very nervous about it. Where you personally satisfied with the outcome?
Victor Bockris:The 29 minute conversation between Burroughs and Reed I tape-recorded in August 1979 was one of the best pieces I have ever done. We arrived over an hour late, but when we got there we found William having cocktails with four friends. After going round the table putting everybody down, Lou asked Bill questions like did you have to sleep with your publisher to get your books published and did you cut off your toe to avoid the draft? Bill’s guest froze in horror, but he thought Lou was funny and hip. When Lou said, “We who play cannot stay,” Bill did something I‘d never seen him do before, he walked Lou down the stairs and out into the street. When Lou asked Bill, “Can we get together for a quiet dinner?” Bill agreed. However when I said “We should do that,” Lou replied, “What’s this we? I just wanted to get together with Mr. Burroughs.”
When I got back upstairs into the Bunker and tested my tape all I could hear was a buzzing noise like an out take from Metal Machine Music, under which was the faint rumble of voices. I immediately sat down and wrote the whole thing out verbatim from memory. Like I said, it was a memorable experience.
LAN: I feel that this is the best biography you have ever written. How do you personally feel about Transformer??
Victor Bockris: ”Transformer: The Lou Reed Story” was the third in a trilogy of biographies written one after the other with but a few weeks break between them. I did feel Transformer benefited from my experiences writing the Warhol and Richards books. It was also more of a story and had a good sense of humor running through it. I had a more emotionally close relationship with Lou than the others. So yes, it is in some sense the best written. But the Warhol biography is a better book because it deals with a much more significant figure. Of course I updated the Lou Reed book in 2014 with Transformer: The Complete Lou Reed Story. So far it remains the most accurate and in-depth account of Lou’s life. I cannot imagine how anybody could beat it.
LAN: If you could say one last thing to Lou right now, What would it be?
Victor Bockris:His death awoke me from the dream of life. His relationship with Laurie Anderson brought out the best in him. And his last album ”Lulu” may well be the best thing he ever did. It was also hugely successful reaching 36 on the Billboard charts and selling over 100,000 copies in it’s first weeks of release in Europe, going into the top ten in seven nations. I was amazed by the number of critics who said it was a disaster, just like the critics had called Berlin a disaster in 1973. WAKE THE FUCK UP!
LAN: What are you up to now? Should we be expecting a new book in a near future?
Victor Bockris:So far this year my agent Helen Donlon has sold ”The Burroughs-Warhol Connection” in Korea and ”Warhol: The Biography” in Russia, both new countries for my books. We also have the film about Andy Warhol starring Jared Leto based on my book to look forward to. Meanwhile I am obsessed with finishing a memoir about my life as a writer. My lips are zipped on that one.
LAN: Thank you so much! I really appreciate that you made time for this interview! It’s always so interesting to know a little more about the circumstances and facts surrounding the writing of a book. It’s always delightful to hear your stories! I cannot wait to hear about your memoir! Hopefully I will finally be able to read more about your life as a writer! This should be totally and utterly entertaining!!
Victor Bockris: THANK YOU TOBE FOR THIS OPPORTUNITY TO REVISIT LOU REED, WHO IS STILL AMONG THE TOP FIVE ARTIST IN MY MIND. IT WILL ALWAYS GIVE ME IMMENSE PLEASURE TO LISTEN TO HIM SING. I wish somebody would take the time to look into Lou’s oft repeated claim that each of his albums was a chapter of his great electric novel. Oh yeah, the ace photographer Bob Gruen used to live above an apartment occupied solely by Lou Reed’s guitars and the man whose job it was to tune them. Bob said the sound of a hundred guitars being tuned never stopped, and sometimes they throbbed with such intensity the floor of his pad would shake and tremble.