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Escape to New York

We fled the suburbs to the sleazy oz of punk-rock downtown for free drinks and Lou Reed's insults.

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SUBCULTURE 1976

We were at the printer’s—Freddie Perez’s joint on Greene Street. It was New Year’s Eve 1976, when Soho was still making the transition from manufacturing to art. Freddie had a giant off-set press, and it was magic watching that first issue of Punk magazine come off that press. It was a three-color cover—black, yellow, and blue—of a gorgeous cartoon of Lou Reed as Frankenstein by John Holmstrom, the genius behind Punk magazine. It was John, me, and Ged Dunn, all three of us from Cheshire, Connecticut—the town that was our parents’ dream but our nightmare. The bastion of everything we hated.

New York City at that time was at the end of white flight and was virtually abandoned. Nobody wanted to live in this dirty, stinking city—except us, who thought it was a giant movie set built just for us. It looked so desolate. Methadone clinics abounded. OTB parlors had sprung up like mushrooms. The city was bankrupt, and cabbies really did say, “Hey, where’d you get your license, Sears and Roebuck, ya fuckhead?!”

It was everything an 18-year-old boy could hope for—New York City was about saying yes to everything. Yes to sex. Yes to drinking all night. Yes to art. Yes to drugs. Yes to rock and roll. Yes to re-inventing yourself according to your fantasy. I had been the original naysayer of the three of us, telling John Holmstrom that this magazine was a “dumb idea.” He told me people would invite us places if we had a magazine. I said, “Everyone hates us. Why would they want to invite us anywhere?” John told me people would want to know us and hang out with us. I wasn’t sold. Then he said the magic words: “And people will buy us drinks.”

I only came up with the name of the magazine, and my official title on the masthead became Resident Punk as a joke. But seeing it come off Freddie Perez’s offset press was inspiring. As soon as we had the Ramones centerfold, I was off to the Sea of Clouds, a loft nightclub somewhere that I don’t remember.

So it was New Year’s Eve and the Ramones were playing with the Heartbreakers, and I wanted to be the first to show off the magazine to the Ramones. We had interviewed them when we all went to CBGB together in September and met Lou Reed and followed him to the Locale, next to the Bottom Line. That night, Lou Reed and his transvestite girlfriend, Rachel, ate hamburgers in front of us while we sat there starving, wondering if we had enough money to buy a beer apiece. Jesus, a cheeseburger never looked so good. I was so hungry and Lou Reed was such an asshole, but after he finished insulting us all (well, mostly me), John was jumping up and down outside, shouting, “We got Lou Reed for the cover! We got Lou Reed for the cover!”

We were the Zeitgeist. Holmstrom turned the Lou interview into a comic strip. I did a made-up interview with Sluggo, the punk from the comic strip “Nancy.” There was a fumetto of me trying to pick up girls, where I failed miserably.

That night at the Sea of Clouds, I went up to Joey Ramone and the band’s manager, Danny Fields, and reintroduced myself. They weren’t that interested. Then I took out Punk magazine and opened it to Mary Harron’s brilliant centerfold on how the Ramones were one of the best bands ever. They stood over a table while all hell was breaking loose around us. People were screaming. Johnny Thunders and the rest of the Heartbreakers were having temper tantrums over not getting paid for their gig. There was beer all over the floor. But Joey and Danny read it, every word. When they finished, Danny turned to me and asked, “Can I get you a beer?”

Shit. John was right.


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