Making Tracks/The Rise of Blondie

INTERVIEW WITH VICTOR AUTHOR EDITOR DESIGNER SITUATIONIST BOCKRIS

Click to read my review!

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 his White 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.

Sticky Fingers album cover, showing a close-up of a jeans-clad male crotch with the visible outline of a medium-sized penis; the cover of the original (vinyl LP) release featured a working zipper and perforations around the belt buckle that opened to reveal a sub-cover image of cotton briefs. Behind the zipper the white briefs were seemingly rubber stamped in gold with the stylized name of American pop artist Andy Warhol, below which read “THIS PHOTOGRAPH MAY NOT BE—ETC.
Christopher Makos, White Trash, 1977 · Cover back and front

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.

Book Cover of Beat Punks by Victor Bockris. Click on it!

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.

The French Version of Videodrome (1983) Movie Poster featuring Deborah Harry.

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.

Chrissie Hynde, Pauline Black of Selector, Debbie, Poly Styrene, Viv from The Slits and Siouxie Banshee by © Chris Stein.

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.

Debbie Harry and Chris Stein of Blondie watch Godzilla in their apartment

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.

Debbie and Anya Phillips in “The Legend of Nick Detroit”, PUNK Magazine ©Artwork By John Halstrom and Bruce Carlton

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.

Debbie Harry & Chris Stein, NYC, 1978 by ©Bob Gruen

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.

Ali Wanted To Be…

In Depth Interview with Victor Bockris, Author of ”Muhammad Ali in Fighter’s Heaven”

by Tobe Damit

Victor walking around the camp with Ali holding his daughter in his arms, 1973. photo ©Bockris-Schmidlapp.

Foreword by Victor Bockris:

The Ali-Warhol Photo Tapestry shown up above as the ”banner” for this article is 60 x 32 inches and comes in various forms ranging from The Ali-Warhol Boxed Set (on 24 separate canvases) to the popular vertical edition on one large print thirty by six four inches, three images across and eight down. It is a beautiful and historic work executed by the Bockris-Schmidlapp team. Copies still available.

In order to enjoy this interview as I hope you will it helps  to know that I am talking about two slightly different Ali books. The first one called Ali: Fighter Poet Prophet was published in October 1974 on the day after Ali defeated George Foreman and regained his World Heavyweight Champion Crown. It was authored by Bockris-Wylie and contained over sixty splendid photographs by Peter Simon. It was also the last book published by the notorious Maurice Girodias’ Freeway Press. Bockris-Wylie was a writing and interviewing team of myself and my early seventies collaborator Andrew Wylie. Girodias, a great friend of mine, was a legend for publishing in the nineteen fifties some of the best books of our times, from Nabakov’s ”Lolita” to William Burroughs’ ”Naked Lunch”. The second one called Muhammad Ali in Fighter’s Heaven” published in 1998 in the U.K. and 2000 in the U.S. by Victor Bockris consists of the original book without the photographs but with a new introduction and final chapter on Andy Warhol’s Ali portrait visit as well as over one hundred stills from Anton Perich’s Ali documentary, parts of which were filmed when Bockris-Wylie was visiting Ali in 1973. To snatch from flames the burning pages of  those days were to twist words into breathing wires in my brain. Let this flog of  memories attend you best. -Victor Bockris

Victor Bockris and Andrew Wylie by ©Elsa Dorfman

This interview was done to complete the article ”Beat Muhammad Ali” previously posted in LAN by Tobe Damit.

Muhammad Ali in Fighter’s Heaven by Victor Bockris.

LAN: In ”’Muhammad Ali in Fighter’s Heaven”, you explain the important role Gerard Malanga played in the birth of the whole project but I want to know why and when you got convinced that Ali was such an important player in the counterculture of the 60’s?

Victor Bockris: By November of 1972 I had established myself as a poet in Philadelphia by publication of two well reviewed books of poems and a documentary about me on local TV. I had included interviews in both books of poems when I found in them the poetry of human speech. I was now shifting my focus from writing poems to conducting a series of interviews with poets. In fact, in collaboration with Andrew Wylie I was about to embark on a collection of these interviews called ‘The Life of Poetry” . By 1972 poets had become more relevant than ever. We clung to the counterculture as the best thing to come out of the nineteen sixties, but in the early seventies it was constantly being attacked by the Nixon administration and poets were often our most articulate voices. The problem was it was virtually impossible to make money to help finance our work on ”The Life of Poetry” (unpublished) from interviewing poets. One afternoon Wylie and I asked ourselves, “Who is the most famous poet in the world?”  The great British poet W.H. Auden, who was the Professor of Poetry at Oxford University in England, had just died. Some radical British students were suggesting that Muhammad Ali should be voted Oxford’s  new professor of Poetry. When we read in the local newspapers that Ali had playfully replied he would be delighted to accept the position, we instantly knew we should do a big interview with Muhammad Ali the Poet. Since the Supreme Court had reversed the sentence he received in 1967 for refusing to be drafted, Ali had increasingly been marketed as the champion of the  underdogs and anti-war protestors around the world. Furthermore, by becoming a Muslim in the sixties and staging his key fights of the seventies in third world countries he certified his credentials as one of the world’s best known anti-war voices. As far as we were concerned the fact that he used his fame to attract attention to the cause of World Peace made him one of us. I got the phone number of his training camp from a sports writer at a Philadelphia tabloid. It was ninety minutes north of us in Pennsylvania. Andrew was usually better at getting interview appointments than I was, but on his occasion since I had a strong British accent I made the call. Much to my surprise, Ali answered the phone on its second ring and when I asked him if we could do an interview about his poetry he gave us an appointment two days later. When we first met him that November morning at 10 a.m. Ali was stark naked. Was this his response to being asked about his poetry? Was he in fact in the tradition of Allen Ginsberg, who sometimes took  his clothes off during a poetry reading, emphasising how naked his poetry was? I have to ask these questions because I am looking for comparisons between my people. You have to wonder otherwise why write at all? Ali was coming off two victorious fights that year and approaching the top of his post sixties game. He was full of energy, he looked terrific. I think he granted us the interview because talking to young people who liked him kept him alert. He was a masterful talker cum rapper and being asked about his poetry sent him into a great long, funny rap about the origins of his poems.  As an indication of how in tune he was to our expectations, at the end of our first visit to Fighter’s Heaven Ali asked me to be his spokesman to, ”The white longhairs in the colleges”.

Muhammad Ali: A Poet In And Out Of The Ring. Gettyimage

LAN: I use the term ”project” for this book because it feels to me that it gave birth to numerous side projects that all had roots in what you were doing. Could you please elaborate on who was doing what and what were the ending results and concrete repercussions of all those things taking place ”in the side lines”?

Victor Bockris: Your are right in this perception. Between September 1971 to June 1972 I worked with Andrew Wylie and Aram Saroyan on our proto punk poetry press, Telegraph Books.  We published ten volumes including Patti Smith’s first book ”Seventh Heaven”, the Warhol Superstar Brigid Polk’s book Scars as well as my ”In America”. This work and my subsequent work received a lot of press attention in the Fall of 1972 leading up to the Ali interview. Outstanding amongst these works was an interview I did with Patti Smith and a poem I wrote called 1972”, which consisted of a list of some three hundred names of the counterculture’s favorite stars. It began with the names of the Rolling Stones, who reached their zenith in 1972 with Exile On Main Street”These two pieces, published together at a new friend Jeff Goldberg’s Red Room Books, marked the beginning of a new period. The first Ali interview, which became the base of the book Ali: Fighter Poet Prophet”, was published the same month it was conducted in Phildelphia’s underground weekly, The Drummer.  It too was a transitional piece, taking us beyond poets to interviewing the One Hundred Most Intelligent People. Rock and Roll was central in my work, which has provided something of a bridge between the Sixties and the Seventies, leading up to Punk  Rock/Art. That was another thing that tied Ali in with my favorite subjects: during the early years of the 1960s Andy Warhol, Keith Richards and Muhammad Ali were all written off in the mainstream press as punks! Punk after all dates far back in time, for punk as I understand it describes a person who is fully committed to transforming themselves into who they want to be and equally committed to their calling. Above all they always do the very best they possibly can and never retreat or surrender. In its June 1974 issue Penthouse magazine featured our Ali interview, which made him happy because it was one of the few times when what he actually said was published instead of some phony rewrite by an editor.

The ”other book”: ”Ali: Fighter Poet Prophet” authored by Bockris-Wylie photographs by Peter Simon.

LAN: The Deer Lake training camp obviously represented a lot more to Ali than just a place to train with these huge rocks painted by Cassius Clay Sr, each one of them bearing the name of a great boxer; What was the very first impression YOU got about the camp itself?

Victor Bockris: Ali’s training camp Fighter’s Heaven has not received the attention it deserves as one of Ali’s greatest achievements. It was his idea. He was tired of paying huge sums of money to house his entourage in hotels and train in other people’s gyms in Miami. Ali decided to build his own camp and he found a good place at the top of a hill leading off Highway 61 in Deer Lake Pennsylvania. When I first got there Ali only had the gym, the kitchen and his log cabin built. The boulders had not arrived yet, but he worked on the place every time he stayed there. It was his drive that got it done.  Between 1972-1973 he surely turned it into a perfect place to get his head, body, spirit and fight together with his team.  Ali treated everybody he employed well, he often gave guys without the money to develop their skills jobs as sparing partners, etc. Ali made it clear to me how much he gained from living there, fresh home-grown vegetables, fresh water, fresh air, endless space to run, great camaraderie among his men. The camp also had an inspiring view across many miles of open country. He had great visions for the camp and every time we visited him he was showing us new stuff. One day he introduced us to Mr Moyer, who was just beginning to deliver the huge boulders on which Ali’s father would paint the names of the greatest champions. Ali got the idea from Archie Moore, who had the same thing in his camp when Cassius Clay trained there in 1962. Ali was exultant about the whole thing. It always felt good to be there. In between 1972-1974, the greatest period the camp ever had, Ali was close with his wife and children I often saw them there.  Everything and everyone was on his spot. Building organizing and running what became his superb camp was the most sustained and successful things he ever did outside the ring. The good vibes and solidarity of Ali’s camp had a lot to do with his victories in Zaire and Manilla. The camp still operates today. He could have made money renting it to fighters, but Ali chose to rent it free to organizations who ran summer camps for poor black kids from the ghettos.

The camp still operates today. He could have made money renting it to fighters, but Ali chose to rent it free to organizations who ran summer camps for poor black kids from the ghettos.

LAN: Obviously this book was never meant to be about boxing per se. It seems that Ali was really proud about his poems and other aspects of his personalities. This must have been very thrilling. Would it be accurate to say that it was really important to Ali that people recognize him to be more than just an athlete at this point in time?

Victor Bockris: The main thrust of the Ali book was to make this transition in the popular conception of Ali. At this time he had in view defeating Frazier in their second fight and defeating Foreman to win back his crown. Many things interceded before he got there, but Ali made it clear to me in 1973 and 1974 that he soon planned to retire. Then it became retire after the third Frazier fight in Manilla in 1975. Ali had really enjoyed touring the colleges in the late sixties. Travelling was in his blood. He’d been led to believe Elijah Muhammad was going to give him an assignment to travel to mosques around the world. Ali dreamed of travelling around the world giving inspiring lectures seeking peace between East and West. It all made sense. After the Foreman and Frazier fights he would have enough money to support his family for the rest of their lives. It is quite possible he could have played a role in bringing east and west together via his Muslim religion. Unfortunately, none of this would ever happen. Ali’s business manager, one of Elijah Muhammad’s sons, took 50% of his income and the rest of Ali’s money after high taxes was so poorly handled he never had enough and was forced to keep fighting, like a cash cow for his handlers,  until everything was used up. It was one of the most vicious examples of what can happen to a man of Ali’s calibre when he des not have control of his resources, but trusts others to take care of them. This is never a good idea.

Ali applauds during a speech given by Elijah Muhammad at a convention of the Nation of Islam in Chicago

LAN: I think it’s a correct assumption to say that Ali truly revealed his ”real self” to you. What aspect of Ali’s blazing personality was the most striking to you?

Victor Bockris: I don’t think Ali revealed his true self to me. I mean Ali was complex, holding in himself contradictory motivations which left him supreme in his profession but weak outside of it. He once told one of  his daughters that he had never been able to feel  anything. He had insecurities. I saw none of these things. Remember I had asked for an interview. What he gave me on that first day was eight hours of his time, from talking to riding in his bus to watching one of his fights on video while Ali sat behind me and flicked punches just past my ear. He was playful. He was joyful. Nearing the end of this marathon visit to Fighter’ Heaven he became a little more personal. Over the years I knew him he always recognized me but never knew my name.

‘I’m so mean I make medicine sick’! Muhammad Ali. Photograph by ©Chris Smith/Hulton

LAN: The book contains an outstanding collection of his poetry; Ali read a lot of his raps and poetry to you. I know most people had heard his raps and rants (!) but was it the first time that he was reading complete poems he had written, commenting them and explaining the events and emotions involved. Do you think he was considering becoming a writer one day?

Victor Bockris: While Andrew and I were interviewing Ali between 1972-1974 our friend Anton Perich was shooting a documentary about Ali, which included the day Ali gave us a real poetry reading. Many years later I was sitting at a table in a nightclub in Copenhagen when I noticed a silent film of a man moving his head and body back and forth in a rocking motion projected slightly larger than life on a wall to my right. Loud disco music was blowing through the room that  seemed so perfectly in time with the man in the film I was thinking they should put this music on the soundtrack of the film when I suddenly realised ”WHATTT!?!” I was looking at Anton’s film of the poetry reading Ali had delivering so hypnotically at us thirty years ago. That image sums up the power of Ali’s delivery. He undoubtedly had a love affair with language but he also communicated with the language of his body.  We have to bear in mind that most of Ali’s poetry was copied from or translated from religious texts. This is no different from Bob Dylan taking songs from the past and making them his own. Ali’s voice was his greatest weapon outside the ring. Asking, “Can Muhammd Ali  write?” is like asking, “Can David Bowie act?” In the verbal department Ali was the most impressive world athlete of all time. Ali mesmerized the world with the language that he used. Millions of Ali’s words in interviews have been published all over the world. His verbal pyrotechnics were not the product of a slow mind. The man was sharp. If he had travelled the world giving speeches those speeches would have turned into books. Can he write? The man had a Great Rap! His gift was in the delivery of the poems and in working them into his raps, his strength was in the performance of the words. He was a great communicator. He could have gone on to be a great orator. Except by the time they were through with him Ali no longer had a voice.

LAN: There is a very interesting chapter about Warhol’s visit to the camp. Warhol seemed a bit ambivalent towards the champ even if Andy still managed to produce Ali’s favorite portrait, it seems there was sort of some ”disconfort” in the air when they actually met for the shooting. What would be your take on it?

Warhol taking photos of Ali. Thursday, August 18, 1977 Photo by ©Victor Bockris.

Victor Bockris:  Andy Warhol’s visit to Fighter’s Heaven came three years after publication of ”Ali: Fighter Poet Prophet”. He had read the book and took me along as a buffer. I had also just published a profile of him which asked the question, ”Who Does Andy Warhol Remind You of Most? Answer: Muhammad Ali.” From the introductions onwards I was struck by how rude Ali was to Warhol. I’d never seen him behave like that. At the same time as we walked over to the gym to take the pictures he annealed himself to my side and talked nonstop. Ali acted this way because he knew Andy was gay. After he finished taking the pictures and got a perfect pose it seemed as if Andy had cracked the ice with Muhammad, who invited us on a tour of the camp. This delusion came crashing down when we got to his cabin and, after reading us a new poem he had written on the Concorde the previous night, Ali pulled a thick stack of index cards out of a big briefcase and proceeded for more than thirty minute to harangue Warhol about the gay influence on the nation. Suddenly I was astonished to see Muhammad abruptly break down in confusion saying he did not know what was happening but he could not talk anymore. When Andy told me afterwards he was so glad Ali kept staring into his eyes, I realised he had delivered the Warhol coup de grace, in which Andy would slice people up with his eyes, instantly discombobulating and dismissing them. Believe me I’ve been on the receiving end of it  and it is extraordinarily effective. On that occasion, Andy Warhol was much stronger than Muhammad Ali.

Warhol, Ali and his daughter Hana by ©Victor Bockris,1977 

LAN: Do you know what were Ali’s feelings towards ”The Greatest”?

Victor Bockris: One day Ali started complaining about how his publishers were treating the book. “Look at this,” he said handing me a  cheap xerox  invitation to its launch. The book might have given Ali an opportunity to sing his story, but his manager hired a well-known Black Muslim propagandist to write the book and it was not accurate. The way his managers marginalized or ignored Ali should have sent shock bells of warning ringing in his ears, but Ali’s fixation on his mission did not allow him to doubt his people. It was a dilemma he never overcame until his fourth wife, Lonnie Ali, took over his finances. So far as I know he never read the book, which is a sad conclusion to his only book contract. Thus is a boxer neutralized and boxed in. His lack of control over his book would soon become a lack of control over his life. You could say Ali got much more from the Muslims than they took from him. Elijah helped to transform Cassius Clay into Muhammad Ali which led to Ali becoming the most famous man in the world. He was also a strong father figure Ali really needed. But the Black Muslim’s did not just take the majority of his money they took way his voice not just once but twice. The first time was in his autobiography. Then by forcing him to fight  his last five years of brutal fights (1976-1981) they took it away again. By the time they were through with him Ali  was no longer able to give any speeches. Was this like some kind of mafia torture where they maximize the suffering? Ali won’t say a bad word against them, but people said he was frightened of the Muslims from the beginning. They destroyed and killed people with seeming immunity. No one was ever caught for killing Malcolm X in broad daylight. The bottom line was just like any crook they got the money, but they also neutralized the Champ. It’s a dark road between Ali and the Black Muslims. After Elijah’s death in 1975 Ali slowly changed his affiliation to the regular Muslims. I don’t want to go there because more than anything Ali was a huge Beacon of Light in a darkening world. When he came into it he was happy along with the Kennedy’s Best and Brightest men.  Then as the evil came out of the land and started shooting down those other beacons so did the evil come to Ali. That he overcame that evil again and again, even prevailing over the broken years of the mid 1980s is his greatest achievement. It took a great man to rise above all the corruption, theft, greed and murder, but he did. That is why he remains to this day that bright Beacon of Light. Now Ali’s light will never go out because it has become a star. Those of us who look up at it from all over the world see different things. For me Ali will always stand for his artistic integrity as a very strong voice for world peace. That’s what he wanted his message to be. He wanted to be seen as a man of peace.  That is what his message was. So let it go forth.

”The book might have given Ali an opportunity to sing his story, but his manager hired a well-known Black Muslim propagandist to write the book and it was not accurate.”

LAN: When Ali got your book, ”Muhammad Ali in Fighter’s Heaven” do you feel he genuinely loved the book and that it played an important part compared to all the book that have been written about the champ? If so, what makes it so special to him and/or to the public in general?

Victor Bockris: I first showed the book to Ali in the Spring of 1975 while we were walking down Central Park South in New York followed by a crowd of a hundred or more people. Bedlam surrounded him as he walked to a restaurant to have dinner. Cops shouted from horses, “Ali! Ali!” Cabs came to screeching halts, people yelled out of car windows, kids ran amongst our feet as he paged through the mass paperback book complaining about the clarity of the pictures on its cheap paper. He was also pissed because he had planned to use the photo he had given us which we used on the cover somewhere else! It was partially in humor. We had left a box of two hundred copies of the book in his suite at the Essex House hotel. We never told him that, just as the advance copies were starting to sell like hotcakes, the printer shredded the entire edition of 50,000 copies of the book because our publisher had not paid his bill. I always wondered what happened to those two hundred copies we gave Ali. Then in 1996 I got a copy of a book of Ali’s favorite photographs of himself called Muhammad Ali in Perspective by Thomas Hauser. It included a Howard Bingham photo of Muhammad holding the book up and reading it at a table sitting next to Lonnie. Both of them wear expressions of supreme satisfaction. I had never seen a photograph of Ali reading a book other than the Koran. Anyway I continued working on Ali projects like The ALI-WARHOL PHOTO TAPESTRY by Bockris-Schmidlapp (See top of the page). Then in 2000 my book ”Muhammad Ali in Fighter’s Heaven” was published in the U.S. and I sent Lonnie and Muhammad  copies. They thanked me. Then In 2009 Lonnie sent me a letter saying that she was reading the book to Muhammad when he went to bed at night. It reminded him of a time in which he almost broke free from his violent profession to become the man of peace he wanted to be so now the book brought peace to him. What more perfect image can we end on? 

Ali riding his horse in Deer Lake ”fighter’s Heaven” training camp by ©Anton Perich

LAN: Indeed!! Thank you so much for your time but most of all in this precise case, I’d say thank you for letting the whole world know that Ali was much more than just one of the greatest boxer in the world. Looking back, how do you feel about having accomplished that??

Victor Bockris: I always loved the Ali book. It was my first book of prose and I loved everything about it. It was beautifully designed, it contained the only collection of Ali’s poetry. It as alive with his voice. I knew it was good, we also received a positive quote from George Plimpton we used on the cover and postcards praising the book from our friends Ted Berrigan and Eartha Kitt. By the time it was published in 2000 I had a better perspective of the book as part of my  Collected Works in fourteen volumes. Back in 1979 Andy Warhol wrote, “Victor Bockris only writes about three people, Muhammad Ali, William Burroughs and me.”  It is the relationship  between these names I see as my accomplishment. My achievement is that I was able, without planning, to write a connected series of books about outstanding artists of our times who shared in common an ability to communicate attitudes and  take actions which combined to play a large role in creating an enlightened counterculture in this country and around the world. And that counterculture, based on its international population’s efforts to stop the war in Vietnam and its lasting influences on our lives today, should in turn be recognized as one of America’s greatest achievements. 

Muhammad Ali by Andy Warhol
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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. 

Read interview with the author here

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Vivian Maier

Streetwise ”Mary Poppins” Never Missed a Shot!

maier2

by Tobe Damit

Vivian Maier never displayed publicly any of her pictures while she was alive but left behind a very impressive collection of photographs. She was never published and many of her negatives were never even printed while she was alive. Impressive in quantity for sure, but also in terms of quality. Vivian Maier’s photos have this ethereal but also very human quality to it,  a sense of tragedy, a sense of humanity, an eye for the details, the framing and a perfect timing, all this coupled with a dark and bizarre edge.

An American of French and Austro-Hungarian extraction, Vivian bounced between Europe and the United States before coming back to New York City in 1951. Having picked up photography just two years earlier, she would comb the streets of the Big Apple refining her artistic craft. By 1956 Vivian left the East Coast for Chicago, where she’d spend most of the rest of her life working as a caregiver. In her leisure Vivian would shoot photos that she zealously hid from the eyes of others. Taking snapshots into the late 1990′s, Maier would leave behind a body of work comprising over 100,000 negatives. Additionally Vivian’s passion for documenting extended to a series of homemade documentary films and audio recordings.

Vivian Maier was a very secretive, mysterious person and if John Maloof wouldn’t have gambled 400$ at an auction, buying a full box of negatives without even looking at them first, nobody would have gotten the chance to see the amazing pictures that gained this unconditional sympathy Vivian seems to be getting from a constantly growing number of admirers. Trusting his gut instinct about this woman who had now passed away, leaving behind her a huge trail of clues (she was a pack rat!) that would be very helpful for anyone who would try to know as much as you can possibly know about a person who is now deceased, Maloof proceeded to not only connect the dots about her life but also, and maybe more importantly, to have her works revealed to the public. With the help of a few people, he started to devote his life to this arduous and challenging task: put the name Vivian Maier in history books. This article is my way of helping him to do exactly that because I truly think that’s where her name belongs. I want her to have the posthumous love and recognition she never had during her life.

Now there is a documentary about her written and directed by
John Maloof and Charlie Siskel, books and numerous exhibitions and events occuring all around the world as we speak but much of the art world establishment still hasn’t accepted Vivian Maier’ work. She didn’t defend herself as an artist, she just did the work and it’s so good that it’s winning over people who were dismissive of it previously and fortunately people aren’t waiting for that kind of validation anyway. They don’t care and they are already claiming Vivian’s work for themselves and her work can now be seen around the world. 

‘Nuf said, here are a few pictures I chose, a very small part of the very legacy Vivian Maier left behind for us.  You can also watch for free the documentary called ”Finding Vivian Maier” that reveals the incredible story of this mysterious nanny, who loved taking pictures.  But let’s have a look at the pictures first.

September 24, 1959, New York, NY
September 24, 1959, New York, NY
August 16, 1956, Chicago, IL
August 16, 1956, Chicago, IL
Emmett Kelly as the clown figure "Weary Willie", Undated
Emmett Kelly as the clown figure “Weary Willie”, Undated
March 1954. New York, NY
March 1954. New York, NY
August 12, 1954, New York, NY
August 12, 1954, New York, NY
Undated, Canada
Undated, Canada
1959, Grenoble, France
1959, Grenoble, France
Christmas Eve 1953, East 78th Street & 3rd Avenue, New York, NY
Christmas Eve 1953, East 78th Street & 3rd Avenue, New York, NY
1961
June 25, 1961
Undated
Undated
May 5, 1955. New York, NY
May 5, 1955. New York, NY
Armenian woman fighting on East 86th Street, September, 1956, New York, NY
Armenian woman fighting on East 86th Street, September, 1956, New York, NY
Undated, New York, NY
Undated, New York, NY
April 19, 1971. Chicago, IL
April 19, 1971. Chicago, IL
May 1953, New York, NY
May 1953, New York, NY
January, 1953, New York, NY
January, 1953, New York, NY
Audrey Hepburn at the Chicago premiere of "My Fair Lady" at the RKO Palace Theater. October 23, 1964
Audrey Hepburn at Chicago premiere of “My Fair Lady”, RKO Palace Theater. October 23, 1964
August 22, 1956. Chicago, IL
August 22, 1956. Chicago, IL
December 2, 1954, New York, NY
December 2, 1954, New York, NY
May 16, 1957. Chicago, IL
May 16, 1957. Chicago, IL
FINDING VIVIAN MAIER - 2014 FILM STILL - Woman at the NY Public Library still - Photo Credit: Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection
Woman at NY Public Library
January 9, 1957, Florida
January 9, 1957, Florida

All photos credits Vivian Maier/ John Maloof Collection

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Click and Watch”Finding Vivian Maier”

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.

 

Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell

The Dangerous Glitter of David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Lou Reed by Dave Thompson

(3 shows in 2 nights!)

A Few Chosen Extracts:

Aylesbury Friars would be Bowie‘s final show for a month, before he headed into the studio first and then Mott the Hoople. It was also designed to be Bowie’s introduction to an American press that MainMan had flown in for the occasion, writers and tastemakers who had read so much about the new British superstar in the imported papers, but we’re still waiting  to be convinced themselves.

téléchargementThe Spiders’ U.S. tour was now scheduled for September 1972, and if all went according to MainMan’s plan, reviews and reports from the Aylesbury show would see the excitement reaching fever pitch right around the time of the first concert. 

On Saturday July 15th, wined and dined at the height of luxury, lodged in the finest hotels, and shepherded every place they needed to go, the American journalists felt like royalty as they were driven into the leafy confines of Aylesbury ushered into the Friars Club-and confronted with an audience that was even more rabid than the British press reports  had ever warned them. Boisterous though they most have been, and determined to remain aloof, that first rush of adrenalined shrieking caught them off guard, sending their ears reeling before they’d even found a place to stand. Then their eyes took over, bombarding their senses with the sight of a thousand wide-eyed Bowie clones, Angela doubles,Ronson doppelgangers. 

Ziggy Ronson

 ”Ode to Joy” piped through the PA, Loud enough to shake coherent thought from their heads, but not deafening as to be painful, and then the band appeared, ripping straight into ”Hang Onto Yourself”, and all reservations fell away. The show was stunning, the performances seamless, and when Bowie started throwing his silk scarves into the crowd, the writers were as desperate to catch them as the kids.

     The Lou Reed show the previous evening had been a revelation. Taking the stage shortly after midnight and kicking right into a deliciously clunky ”White Night White Heat”, Reed was at his best, a spectral ring-leader, not quite ad-libbing his lyrics but certainly having a wonderful time teasing the Tots with his timing, and if he was the only person in the room who didn’t cringe a little when the band unleashed their backing vocals, that didn’t detract from the sheer thrill of seeing him up there.

  ”Waiting for my man”, layered with flourishes that the song had never before carried; a resonant ”Ride into the Sun”; a fragile ”New Age”, Reed singing instead of mumbling as expected,; on and on through the best of Lou Reed and the finest of the Velvet Underground, Reed may have been leading the crowd into unchartered territory for much of the set, but the roar that greeted ”Sweet Jane” was as heartfelt as the smile with which Reed repaid the recognition.”I Can’t Stand It” was punchy, ”Going Down” was gentle,”Wild Child” was brittle, ”Berlin” was beautiful, and if ”Rock’n’Roll” picked up more applause than the eerie, closing ”Heroin”, that just proved how much easier it was to find Loaded in a British record store than any of the records that preceded it.

The Stooges would really need to be on form to top that.  Again the show started after midnight, allowing the handful of Bowie fans who’d also hit Aylesbury to race back in time for the Stooge’s, together with all the journalists who accepted MainMan’s offer of a bus back into London. A few of them might have thought they knew what to expect, nursing memories of the shows the band had played back in New-York a couple of years before. But they left their expectations on the dance floor. Mick Jones, four years away from forming the Clash at the birth of the British punk movement, was there, astonished by the incandescence of the show. ”The full-on quality of the Stooges was great, like flamethrowers!”

Iggy lived up to his outrageous reputation, dressing in silver leather trousers, with matching silver hair, black lipstick and made-up eyes. After lurching and prowling over every inch of the stage in the first two numbers, he decided to wander into audience, followed where possible by spotlight. He stopped occasionally to stare deep into people’s eyes, talking about wanting to find something “interesting” and calling the crowd hippies that didn’t inspire him.Pop was everywhere trailing a mix cord the length of the building as he wandered out into the audience, alternately grabbing and caressing whoever lay in his path. One girl discovered him sitting in her lap, staring into her eyes as he serenaded her; one boy found himself being shaken like a rat as Pop grabbed hold of his head and used it to catch the rhythm of the song. At some point, there was a problem with the sound. Pop stood still for a moment, stock-still and scowling, then howled with rage  and hurled his mic to the ground. It shattered on impact., so he walked to another one, and treated the silent crowd to ”The Shadow of your smile” a suave accapella that kept everyone entranced while the problems were solved. Then it was back to the programmed set, loud, lewd and brutal.   The concert was attended by a group of noisy skinhead types, who voiced their impatience during one of several breaks due to technical problems, which caused Iggy to respond, “What did you say, you piece of shit,” as he advanced threateningly across the stage. The cat-caller’s memory suddenly failed him as he melted back into the crowd.  After the microphone was fixed, the Stooges commenced another song but halfway through one of the amplifiers broke down, causing a long delay. Later in the show, the leader of the skinhead gang went down to the front of the stage to shout obscenities. This time, Iggy went berserk, leaping across the stage to aim a boot in the guy’s face. Roadies pounced on the guy and bundled him out of a side exit; the rest of the mob shut up completely. 

 ”We did a bunch of things that were new and we started wearing lots of makeup for one thing.and that was different, Williamson recalled. I think we had rehearsed pretty much by that point. It didn’t seem unique to me. We did a lot of stuff with the crowd at that show, which was bizarre for the Londoners, but it was typical for us. That’s what we were used to doing.”

They took Pop’s activities in stride, ”It was part of the show, but we had to really cover a lot for him because he was very improvisational, as was the whole band. We knew, but if you weren’t used to it, you didn’t know when he was going to start a song or when it was going to stop or what to do in the middle because it wasn’t exactly you’d recorded it. He was very unpredictable”IggyPopRawPowerCover1972(c)MickRock

    In attendance at the King’s Cross Cinema were several aspiring musicians, who would go on to become highly influential in the British punk rock movement which exploded a few years later, including Joe Strummer (the Clash), Johnny Rotten (the Sex Pistols), Brian James (the Damned), and Siouxsie Sioux (Siouxsie and the Banshees). The concert has been called the birth of British punk rock. “That show changed the history of English music, because of who was there,” notes Iggy. “People checked us out and realised we had changed the playing field for what was possible.” 

 The Stooges drew predominantly positive reviews, although it was obvious that they made the British critics somewhat uneasy. “The total effect was more frightening than all the Alice Coopers and Clockwork Oranges put together, simply because these guys weren’t joking,” said Nick Kent in New Musical Express. Michael Oldfield of Melody Maker felt Iggy and the band were on the verge of the dangerous, “It’s like a flashback 200 years, to the times when the rich paid to go into insane asylums and see madmen go into convulsions.”

      Photographer  Mick Rock admitted that he felt “distinctly intimidated” as he photographed the show.He never did precisely know what he was preserving.  When MainMan called him down to the show, he was told only that the night needed to be captured in all its flaming Glory. It would be another year before one of the shots he took  that evening was blown up for the cover of the Stooges’ third album, a close up of the singers torso, leaning on his mic stand, his face set and beautiful, staring into space. Pop later claimed that he hated it.

     Pop, Rock said, ”was already in my mind more mythological than human. His appeal was omnisexual;  he was physically very beautiful, (and) the silver hair and silver trousers only added to the sense of the mythological. He seemed to have emerged from some bizarre primal hinterland, so much bigger than life, emoting and projecting a tingling menace. He was…a cultural revolutionary, operating well ahead of his time.” The question that nobody dared ask was, was anybody truly ready to take the burden on? …..

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 Set Lists:

Lou Reed

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14-07-72 (technically this was really 15-07 because Lou did not play till after midnight)

SCALA CINEMA, KING’S CROSS, LONDON, UK

White Light/White Heat – I’m Waiting For The Man – Ride Into The Sun – New Age – Walk And Talk It – Sweet Jane – Going Down – I Can’t Stand It – Berlin – Cool It Down – Wild Child – Rock And Roll – Heroin

 

 David Bowie 15-07  

Dubbed The most celebrated gig in Friars history  

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Friars Aylesbury, Borough Assembly Hall, Market Square, Aylesbury, UK

HANG ON TO YOURSELF; ZIGGY STARDUST; THE SUPERMEN; QUEEN BITCH; SONG FOR BOB DYLAN; CHANGES; STARMAN; FIVE YEARS; SPACE ODDITY; ANDY WARHOL; AMSTERDAM; I FEEL FREE; MOONAGE DAYDREAM; WHITE LIGHT/WHITE HEAT; GOT TO GET A JOB; SUFFRAGETTE CITY; ROCK N ROLL SUICIDE

 Iggy Pop and The Stooges:

15-07 (technically this was in fact 16-07 because they did not play till after midnight)

SCALA CINEMA or King Sound (I guess was the name of King’s Cross Cinema, at least temporarily), KING’S CROSS, LONDON, UK

I got a right, Scene of the Crime, Gimme Some Skin, I’M Sick of you, The Shadow of your Smile (Tony Benett cover) , Money That What I Want (BARRETT Strong Cover), Tight Pants,Fresh Rag, Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell, Search and Destroy, Penetration 

 

 

Artwork ©Butcher Billy
Artwork ©Butcher Billy

Vintage Pics of Iggy and The Stooges

 FARMINGTON HIGH SCHOOL IN OAKLAND COUNTY

DECEMBER 5TH 1970

On December 5, 1970, The Stooges played a show at Michigan’s Farmington High School. That’s Zeke Zettner on bass, James Williamson AND Ron  Asheton on guitar as well as Scott Asheton on drums.  Jim Edwards (lead singer of Detroit band The Rockets) saw these pictures taken by Syd Ganon at the gig and immediately shared them on his facebook page. I heard about it much later through Please Kill Me. Here they are now posted with everything I could gather around their story and various comments from people who sat their asses in this gymnasium that happen to be the theater of one the very first real Stooges Concert. 

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”He was 45 minutes late because they were “busy” in the john with needles and such, or so rumor had it. It was my lap he landed on, shocked the crap out of me. You can see the side of my face in the pic, lol. I remember I kept tapping his shoulder, “Sir? Excuse me, sir?” lol His tongue freaked me out, full of what looked like holes to me. I remember I was sitting next to my friend I called “Bucky”, I think his name was Mark McCallum? Could be wrong there, but I was begging him to get Iggy off of me! tongue Probably a good experience, all in all for me, as it was an “in your face wake up call” to show me what the end of the “path” I was teetering on actually looked like.”

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Above, a young James Williamson plays his first live gig with the Stooges.
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Short-term Stooge Zeke Zettner on bass, Iggy and drummer Scott Asheton.
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A great shot of Ron Asheton. Looking at their gear, it must have been pretty loud in that gym.
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In late ’71, Zeke Zettner left the band & enlisted in the Army and went to Vietnam, allegedly to get cheaper heroin. Zeke died from an overdose on 10 November 1973.
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“I was there as a sophomore…The show also featured Brownsville Station and Mitch Ryder. Iggy only played four songs before collapsing in the middle of the gym floor on the lap of another one of my pals who was in ninth grade at the time.” —Pete, Farmington High School pupil in 1970
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”The show was late due to Iggy being arrested earlier in the night – and then bailed out by band members. Iggy did not start until midnight – way too late for the kiddies in attendance….”– Pete
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Has Iggy ever worn a shirt?
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‘’I see at least five members of the student body in the crowd – that are now dead. Yet Iggy rolls on. How cool!’’-Peter
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Gatta love the scoreboard in the background!
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Wonder what the kids were thinking with all that noise blasting them in a gym? Can’t imagine the acoustics were very good. Funny to see them sitting down as Iggy crawls all over them.
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The Stooges look they stepped off the first album cover and donned stage clothes and wham! Check out the dog collar on Iggy!
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Scott Asheton ”beating his heart out” on drums.
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When I see pics like this I always wonder if the kids had any idea what to expect with a band like this. Did they dig it, or were they going, “Eeww, gross. And what’s all that racket?
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Despite the leather and dog collars and of course Iggy, it all looks so innocent and … fun.
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What did the administration think? “Hmmm, The Stooges… How bad can it be?
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I wonder who got fired for booking that band!
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It’s almost jarring to see what basically became punk rock played out in a Woodstock-era high school gym, 6 years before the movement broke in England. Iggy is timeless.
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It’s even cooler that the show is during that brief period with both James Williamson AND Ron Asheton on guitar.
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And nobody could even yell- “Freebird! ”
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I can only imagine what these poor, unsuspecting, teens were thinking when “that nervous little shirtless feller” started gruntin’ and hollerin’ as the band churned up a deafening wall of noise. I bet it was even weirder when “that nervous little shirtless feller” started convulsing, doing back flips, and THEN dove on top of those kids seated on the floor!!
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Legendary on-and-off stage stunts…
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Iggy and the Stooges at Farmington High School in Oakland County, 1970
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”Sorry I’m a little late! If you only knew all that happened you’d be really happy I was even able to show up!”

Here is a comment I got from Jennifer Saffran that would make sense on the events that took place before the show:

Not the story I heard. I graduated from this high school later, and did not see this show. My history teacher told us what happened. He said that Iggy was shooting up right before the show in the bathroom. The police had been trying to “catch” him, and they found him with the needle, ready to go. The police were about to arrest him, but it was agreed they would let him do the show, then arrest him at the end, since the gym was full of kids waiting. He collapsed. No administrator approved the Stooges, exactly. A group of students picked th bands and no one really ran it by an adult, or if they did, no one knew what they were in for. After that, the admin. made sure they screened what happened at school dances more carefully. I never heard of a live band performing after that, only DJs.

Whatever happened that day, it is now part of the legend. Iggy is now 70 years old, alive and kicking! Check out Gimme Danger, Jim Jarmusch documentary on The Stooges!

All photos by ©Syd Ganon

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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Tarkovsky’s Private Polaroids‎

Access Soviet Filmmaker’s Luminous World 

Polaroid by Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979-84 © Андрей Тарковский/Ultreya, Milano

Andrei Tarkovsky is often cited as the greatest cinematic artist of all time. His roster of just seven films – including Andrei Rublev, Ivan’s Children and Solaris – have made him one of the most lauded directors in history, awarded a Golden Lion, the Grand Prix du Jury at Cannes and, posthumously, the Lenin Prize – the highest accolade in the Soviet Union. One of his heroes, Ingmar Bergman, once stated “Tarkovsky for me is the greatest, the one who invented a new language, true to the nature of film, as it captures life as a reflection, life as a dream.”

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Veneration for Tarkovsky has not dimmed since his premature death in 1986, making the recent discovery of a cache of his polaroids a thrilling find. Taken between 1979 and 1984, in the years before his death from a cancer supposedly contracted on the set of Stalker, they span his last months in the Soviet Union and the years he spent researching and filming in Italy. Very much in the spirit of his moving image work, they capture nature, individuals and light in images that shine with the singular humanity which imbues his films. He once pronounced that “the director’s task is to recreate life, its movement, its contradictions, its dynamic and conflicts. It is his duty to reveal every iota of the truth he has seen…” In these vignettes from his personal world, populated by his dog, his children, his garden and the view from his window, we are left spellbound by a quiet and captivating insight into the world of a man who rendered dreams reality, creating worlds of wonder and truth that have never been equalled despite all the bombast of modern technology.

 –Text by Tish Wrigley

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All Polaroids by Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979-84 © Андрей Тарковский/Ultreya, Milano  

Polaroid by Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979-84 © Андрей Тарковский/Ultreya, Milano