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The Encyclopedia of Superlatives

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Police Commissioner Lewis J. Valentine, right, 1935.  

NIGHTCLUB
By Steve Lewis
Club Manager
Studio 54 is one of the greatest. People don’t mix the same way now: You don’t have drag queens dancing at straight clubs anymore. Area was a top club, but it was very much based in a drug culture. You cannot deny Danceteria: It was an artists’ club. But the World was the conjunction of all these things. It was edgy at a time when clubs defined the edge. Back in the eighties, fashion was being created in clubs. And the World was a place where hip-hop and house were breaking when nobody else was playing it. Gay, straight, rich, poor, everyone was there. You would have kids straight up from the projects a few blocks away getting in for free, because that was the criterion. If you had no money, you got in for free, mixing in with Carolina Herrera wearing emeralds.


PHOTOGRAPH
By Chuck Close
I think I first saw a version of Edward Steichen’s Flatiron Buildingin the early sixties. Years later, I was asked to curate a show from the collection of the MoMA, and in the process, I was shown a box of his prints of the Flatiron. I saw many versions (all from the same negative), some black-and-white and some toned in dramatically different ways. Some were contrasty—others looked as if the fog had moved in to almost obscure the image entirely. The twilight view is one of my favorites. The almost Zenlike calligraphy of the black branches is in stark definition against the twilight. The hansom cabs and the piercing lights coming through the inky atmosphere are all set against the seemingly impossible Giacometti-like thinness of the tower. It’s truly one of the greatest building portraits.


POLICE COMMISSIONER
By Thomas Reppetto
Former president, Citizens Crime Commission of New York City
The average term for a police commissioner is about two and a half years, but Lewis J. Valentine served for eleven, from 1934 to 1945. That’s still the record. Valentine made his reputation as a shoofly, a cop who investigates other cops, and when he became commissioner, he cleaned up a force that had been absolutely demoralized and overwhelmed by the corruption of the Prohibition era. If some cop was sacked for corruption, he’d have the guy marched into his office, and he’d say, “Throw this bum out!” The brass, the rank and file—they were all afraid of him.



Sid Vicious, right, with Nancy Spungen and Mick Jones of the Clash at Max's Kansas City, 1978.  

ROCK SHOW
By Thurston Moore
The fact that the Sex Pistols blew off New York City on their ’78 tour to focus on the Deep South and beyond was a remarkable move by Malcolm McLaren, but it really bummed us starving, 20-year-old, New Wave, no-wave punkoids. When the Pistols died a crummy death at San Francisco’s Winterland, it was seemingly all over. Almost within a day of hearing about it, there was an ad in the Voice for Sid Vicious and His Crew at Max’s Kansas City. There was no question, we were going. The place was jammed, drunk, and smoked out. Sid, with the New York Dolls’ Walter Lure and Jerry Nolan (holding Nancy Spungen’s hand, yow!), a drummer named Steve Dior, and on guitar, the amazing Mick Jones from the Clash! And the Clash hadn’t even played that first mind-blowing Palladium gig yet. They assembled behind the curtain, and Sid stuck his head through it and gave us the almighty Sid wink, and we knew it was gonna be fun! The curtain opened and Mick Jones led the band through primal Dolls and Pistols originals, as well as fifties juvenile-delinquent punk-rock classics (“C’mon Everybody,” “Somethin’ Else”). Nancy was playing (kinda) tambourine. The audience went ballistic. Every chair and table got crushed, with people spitting and throwing drinks. Just pure mania. French guys were pointing their fingers to the stage: “Seed Veeshus! Seed!” After the first song, some girl yelled “I love you,” to which Sid retorted, “Shut your fucking mouth, you stupid fucking cunt!” I’d seen bands get spit on, and the bands would usually scowl or, worse, complain. Sid spit back! You could see his goobers spelunking in French punks’ eyeballs! This had to be waaay better than any ol’ Sex Pistols gig, this was the flower and the poison in one glorious crash and burn. We left on fire, knowing we had witnessed punk-rock history. We were singed by it.



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