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. ”
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.
“Hi, it’s Deb. You know, when I woke up this morning I had a realization about myself. I was always Blondie. People always called me Blondie, ever since I was a little kid. What I realized is that at some point I became Dirty Harry. I couldn’t be Blondie anymore, so I became Dirty Harry.”
New Jersey’s own Debbie Harry is an icon and sex symbol (those dead eyes and daft lips…) of the 1970s Punk/ New Wave/Art scene. She originally hailed from Hawthorne and went on to graduate from Centenary College in Hackettstown — all just a long stones’ throw from the killer stomping grounds. Eesh. Her career nearly ended before it began when she jumped into the back of a car driven by a serial killer.
”It was the early Seventies, maybe .72. I was trying to get across town to a party. It was two or three o’clock in the morning and I was staggering around on huge platform shoes. This car kept circling around and some guy was offering me a ride. I kept refusing, but finally I took the ride because I couldn’t get a cab.
I got in the car and the windows were are rolled up, except for a tiny crack. This driver had an incredibly bad smell to him. I looked down and there were no door handles and no cranks. I started scanning the inside of the car and there was absolutely nothing. The inside of the car was stripped. The hairs on the back of my neck just stood up.
I wiggled my arm out of the window and pulled the door handle from the outside. I don’t know how I did it, but I got out. He tried to stop me by spinning the car but it sort of helped me fling myself out. I fell out and nearly got run over by a cab.
Afterwards I saw him on the news: It was Ted Bundy.
In the early 70’s Bob Gruen and his wife Nadya Beck bought a video camera and filmed around 40 hours of footage from the New-York Dolls. This is a must see!!
Artist Biography by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
The New York Dolls created punk rock before there was a term for it. Building on the Rolling Stones‘ dirty rock & roll, Mick Jagger‘s androgyny, girl group pop,the Stooges‘ anarchic noise, and the glam rock of David Bowie and T. Rex, the New York Dolls created a new form of hard rock that presaged both punk rock and heavy metal. Their drug-fueled, shambolic performances influenced a generation of musicians in New York and London, who all went on to form punk bands. And although they self-destructed quickly, the band’s first two albums remain among the most popular cult records in rock & roll history.
All of the members of the New York Dolls played in New York bands before the band formed in late 1971. Guitarists Johnny Thunders and Rick Rivets, bassist Arthur Kane, and drummer Billy Murciawere joined by vocalist David Johansen. Early in 1972, Rivets was replaced by Syl Sylvain and the group began playing regularly in Lower Manhattan, particularly at the Mercer Arts Center. Within a few months, they had earned a dedicated cult following, but record companies were afraid of signing the Dolls because of their cross-dressing and blatant vulgarity.
Late in 1972, the Dolls embarked on their first tour of England. During the tour, drummer Murcia died after mixing drugs and alcohol. He was replaced by Jerry Nolan. After Nolan joined the band, the Dolls finally secured a record contract with Mercury Records.Todd Rundgren — whose sophisticated pop seemed at odds with the band’s crash-and-burn rock & roll — produced the band’s debut New York Dolls, which appeared in the summer of 1973. The record received overwhelmingly positive reviews, but it didn’t stir the interest of the general public; the album peaked at number 116 on the U.S. charts. The band’s follow-up, Too Much Too Soon, was produced by the legendary girl group producerGeorge “Shadow” Morton. Although the sound of the record was relatively streamlined, the album was another commercial failure, only reaching number 167 upon its early summer 1974 release.
Following the disappointing sales of the Dolls’ two albums, Mercury Records dropped the band. No other record labels were interested in the group, so the Dolls decided to hire a new manager, the BritishMalcolm McLaren, who would soon become famous for managing the Sex Pistols. With the Dolls, McLaren began developing his skill for turning shock into invaluable publicity. Although he made it work for the Pistols just a year later, all of his strategies backfired for The Dolls. McLaren made the band dress completely in red leather and perform in front of the U.S.S.R.’s flag, all of which meant to symbolize the Dolls’ alleged communist allegiance. The new approach only made record labels more reluctant to sign the band and members soon began leaving the group.
By the middle of 1975, Thunders and Nolan left the Dolls. The remaining members, Johansen and Sylvain, fired McLaren and assembled a new lineup of the band. For the next two years, the duo led a variety of different incarnations of the band, to no success. In 1977, Johansen and Sylvain decided to break up the band permanently. Over the next two decades, various outtakes collections, live albums, and compilations were released by a variety of labels and The New York Dolls’ two original studio albums never went out of print.
Upon the Dolls’ breakup, David Johansen began a solo career that would eventually metamorphose into his lounge-singing alter ego, Buster Poindexter, in the mid-’80s. Syl Sylvain played with Johansen for two years before he left to pursue his own solo career. Johnny Thunders formed The Heartbreakers with Jerry Nolan after they left the group in 1975. Over the next decade, the Heartbreakers would perform sporadically and Thunders would record an occasional solo album. On April 23, 1991, Thunders was found dead in his room at the St. Peter House in New Orleans, Louisiana. Nolan performed at a tribute concert for Thunders later in 1991; a few months later, he died of a stroke at the age of 40.
In 2004, formerSmiths vocalist Morrissey — who was once the president of a British New York Dollsfan club — invited the surviving members of the New York Dolls to perform at the 2004 Meltown Festival, a music and cultural festival that was being curated that year by the singer. To the surprise of many, David Johansen, Syl Sylvain, and Arthur Kane agreed to the gig, with Steve Conte (from Johansen’s solo band) standing in for Thunders and Gary Powell from the Libertines sitting in on drums. The group’s set was well received by critics and fans (and was recorded for release on DVD and compact disc), which led to offers for other festival appearances, but only a few weeks after the Meltdown show, Kane checked himself into a Los Angeles hospital with what he thought was a severe case of the flu. Kane’s ailment was soon diagnosed as leukemia, and he died only a few hours later, on July 13, 2004, at age 55.
The very controversed red leather look Malcom McLaren gave the New York Dolls, also using a communist flag backdrop for their concerts. Not very long afterwards McLaren was flying back to UK. The Dolls were history and McLaren was about to enter it. With a keen eye for trends, McLaren realised that a new protest style was needed for the ’70s, and largely initiated the punk movement in the UK, for which he supplied fashions from the Chelsea boutique ‘SEX’, operated with his girlfriend Vivienne Westwood. The issue of a controversial record, “God Save the Queen”, satirising the Queen’s Jubilee in 1977 was typical of McLaren’s shock tactics, and he gained publicity by being arrested after a promotional boat trip outside the Houses of Parliament. The Sex Pistols became more associated with the Punk movement than any other band.