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Nightclubbing | The Cramps

Pat Ivers and Emily Armstrong continue sorting through their archives of punk-era concert footage as it’s digitized for the Downtown Collection at N.Y.U.’s Fales Library.

Halloween poster.

After a weekend of belated Halloween and Day of the Dead celebrations, how about another bit of eerie entertainment? Better than a bag of candy, more shiver-inducing than a zombie apocalypse: ladies and gentlemen, we present The Cramps.

For more than a quarter of a century, the band cave-stomped their signature brand of rockabilly and blues with a blend so stripped down that for years, they used no bass. Relying on sinuous guitars and drums to stake their rhythms, they created a sound that invoked surf rock, grade-B horror films and a whiff of medicine show. Lead singer Lux Interior hated the use of the term psychobilly to describe their sound but the fans embraced it. Keep Reading »

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Nightclubbing | After-Hours, 1980

Pat Ivers and Emily Armstrong continue sorting through their archives of punk-era concert footage as it’s digitized for the Downtown Collection at N.Y.U.’s Fales Library.

Danceteria video lounge (Photo: Emily Armstrong)

When BAD Burger announced last month that it was ditching its plan to stay open 24/7, it seemed like one more market indicator of the neighborhood’s shifting demographic from boho stronghold to, well, we’re not sure what it is anymore, other than upscale. It got us thinking about how much things have changed from those wild years in the late ’70s and early ’80s when rents were low, charm was currency and after hours clubs were everywhere. The fact that these establishments were blatantly illegal barely furrowed a brow back then. They were just part of the city’s recession economy.

For a lot of people, those early Reagan Years were also the Up All Night Years. Typically, an after-hours spot opened around 3 a.m. and gave up the ghost around noon. Somehow, they were always packed and never too hard to find. Given the variety and sheer number of options available, folks tended to flit from place to place, but clubs did have individual identities. AM/PM in Tribeca attracted a mix of Wall Street types, downtown rockers and artists, while Crisco Disco and the Anvil were for the gay boys on the West Side. The Jefferson was shabby chic, a derelict vaudeville theater and a bit of a death trap; there was only a narrow staircase to the second floor where the festivities sometimes spilled out onto a rickety marquee overlooking East 14th Street. It did have romance: a friend of ours met his first wife there. Keep Reading »

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Nightclubbing | Pylon

Pat Ivers and Emily Armstrong continue sorting through their archives of punk-era concert footage as it’s digitized for the Downtown Collection at N.Y.U.’s Fales Library.

Pylon’s debut album.

A few years ago, a woman took her 14-year-old daughter to a Sleater/Kinney concert. After the show, a band member approached the mom and breathlessly asked, “Are you Vanessa from Pylon? We love you!” Score one for the parental unit.

Pylon is the greatest group from the new wave scene that you probably never heard of. When Rolling Stone saluted R.E.M. as the best band in America in 1987, their drummer Bill Berry disagreed. “We’re not the best rock ‘n roll band in America.” He thought Pylon was.
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Nightclubbing | Iggy Does Sinatra

Pat Ivers and Emily Armstrong continue sorting through their archives of punk-era concert footage as it’s digitized for the Downtown Collection at N.Y.U.’s Fales Library.

Time’s a funny thing, especially where musicians are concerned. If the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Rolling Stones doesn’t scare you, perhaps the realization that we’ve shared nearly 36 years with Bono and 29 with Madonna will.

Still, it’s a little surprising that a mere 21 years separates the release of “Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely” in 1958 and the above video of Iggy Pop covering the LP’s iconic track, “One for My Baby,” at Hurrah’s in 1979. At first glance, the culture wars of the ’60s would seem to render irrelevant the bars, broads and bruisers ethos that Ol’ Blue Eyes represented. But for the generation that made up the original punks, those childhood memories of cigarette smoke, parents’ late nights and Sinatra’s music ran deep. Keep Reading »

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Nightclubbing | The Raybeats

Pat Ivers and Emily Armstrong continue sorting through their archives of punk-era concert footage as it’s digitized for the Downtown Collection at N.Y.U.’s Fales Library. In this edition: the discovery of a lost Philip Glass recording.

(Photo: Gary Reese)

In 1687, Newton’s third law of motion explained that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. For punk rock, that reaction was the Artists Space 1978 music festival. With a line-up featuring the Contortions, DNA, Mars, and Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, it spawned the No Wave scene. The sound was atonal, abrasive and utterly new, combining elements of funk, jazz and just plain noise. As Lenny Kaye of the Patti Smith Group observed, “the edge that originally attracted people to punk rock, that splintered sound, was almost gone by the late ‘70s. No Wave kinda picked up the artistic banner.”

In 1980, the pendulum swung again for four of No Wave’s most influential musicians. Jody Harris, Donny Christensen and George Scott III were veterans of the Contortions and Pat Irwin had performed with George in 8-Eyed Spy with Lydia Lunch. They were done with moody lead singers and wanted to try another way. They formed The Raybeats. Keep Reading »

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Nightclubbing | Girl Groups: The Go-Go’s and Pulsallama

Pat Ivers and Emily Armstrong continue sorting through their archives of punk-era concert footage as it’s digitized for the Downtown Collection at N.Y.U.’s Fales Library.

When the Go-Go’s arrived in New York City from the West Coast in August, 1980, they were a sweet, goofy package of pure pop in a New Wave wrapper. They provided the kind of light summer fun that can prove irresistible and were well received when they played their first night at Danceteria (see clip).

The reviews were a little harsher back in L.A. Wayzata Camerone, founder of Hollywood after-hours club the Zero Zero recalls, “They were laughed at; we thought they couldn’t play and they had insipid songs. But Belinda [Carlisle] was sweet and polite.” Keep Reading »

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Nightclubbing | Max Blagg

Pat Ivers and Emily Armstrong continue sorting through their archives of punk-era concert footage as it’s digitized for the Downtown Collection at N.Y.U.’s Fales Library.

Max Blagg (Photo: Emily Armstrong)

August 1980 in the Lower East Side: it was the Summer of Heroin.

Clinton Street was not yet restaurant row – it was lined with shooting galleries, rows of cars with Jersey plates and steerers plying their wares. “We got Snoopy, 7-Up, Yellow Bag; we got the stuff that can kill you, man!” – a pitch both fascinating and confounding. Junkies were on every other corner and street muggings were rampant. Home break-ins were a fact of life so common that it became uninteresting unless it happened to you.

Which it did. We came home one night to find our apartment tossed and our video equipment gone. At the time, we were running the Video Lounge at Danceteria and our coworkers rallied to our support, organizing a benefit. Poet Max Blagg, then a bartender at the club, read his epic, “Smack Yourself Senseless.” His poem, a brutal five minute take-down of heroin chic, was a comfort. Keep Reading »

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Nightclubbing | Richard Hell and the Voidoids

Pat Ivers and Emily Armstrong continue sorting through their archives of punk-era concert footage as it’s digitized for the Downtown Collection at N.Y.U.’s Fales Library.

Richard Hell with set list.

You can’t talk about punk rock without talking about Richard Hell. Television, the band he founded in 1973 with then best friend Tom Verlaine, was one of the groups – along with Blondie and the Ramones – that laid the foundation for the downtown scene at CBGBs. Sex Pistols impresario Malcolm McLaren purportedly looked at a poster of Television in 1974, pointed at Richard and said, “I want to start a band that looks like him.” Keep Reading »

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Nightclubbing | Levi and the Rockats

Pat Ivers and Emily Armstrong continue sorting through their archives of punk-era concert footage as it’s digitized for the Downtown Collection at N.Y.U.’s Fales Library.

At CBGB, it was a crapshoot what you would hear on a given night (maybe folk rock, maybe noise bands) and we, the audience, said bring it on. If the music was good, we listened to it. But over in England, there was a culture war raging that was alien to most variety-loving New Yorkers.

Teds were the original “rebel teenagers” of the late 40s and early 50s, with their own unique clothing style and love of early rock and roll. They endured as a niche group for years, enjoying a resurgence in the 70s. They held on to their sartorial and musical traditions – and with it, an unfortunate penchant for violence, a behavior certainly fanned by the British tabloids. Though the gritty details remain debatable, it seemed inevitable that the conservative, volatile Teds would pick a fight with the publicity-loving, anarchic punks. The natty Teds didn’t like safety pins and they sure didn’t like the Sex Pistols.

Leee Black Childers remembered going to a rockabilly show in London in 1977 while touring with the Heartbreakers as their manager during the “Anarchy in the UK” tour. “When the lights went up, Teds suddenly descended on us and threatened to beat us up for being punks,” he said. “This kid, Levi Dexter stepped up and stuck up for us and we were saved.” Childers asked him if he had any friends, because with his looks he could start up a band. Levi recruited childhood friend Smutty Smiff and a few others and Childers became their manager. Keep Reading »

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Nightclubbing | Divine Goes to CBGBs

Pat Ivers and Emily Armstrong continue sorting through their archives of punk-era concert footage as it’s digitized for the Downtown Collection at N.Y.U.’s Fales Library.

All punk rockers were not alike. From blue-collar rockers to art school grads, the CBGBs crowd ran the New York gamut: diverse, passionate and extremely opinionated. But there was one thing everyone agreed on. Everybody loved Divine.

Born Harris Glenn Milstead, Divine was dubbed “Drag Queen of the Century” by People magazine after appearing in 10 films by John Waters. Here’s how much downtowners adored Divine: In April, 1978, The Neon Women, a play written by Tom Eyen, opened at Hurrah’s, a nightclub on West 62 Street. Starring Divine as Flash Storm, a retired stripper, it was loosely based on Gypsy Rose Lee’s detective novel, “The G String Murders.” Downtowners actually crossed 14th Street to see it, traveling uptown in droves. Keep Reading »

Nightclubbing | Blitz Benefit, 1978

Pat Ivers and Emily Armstrong continue sorting through their archives of punk-era concert footage as it’s digitized for the Downtown Collection at N.Y.U.’s Fales Library.

Video contains explicit language, but you already knew that.

Village Voice ad.

The East Village was a very different and much more dangerous place in 1978. But it was still a shock to everyone on the Downtown scene when Johnny Blitz, the Dead Boys’ drummer, was stabbed in a fight on Second Avenue. Street violence isn’t quite what it was in those days, but one thing hasn’t changed: the problem of musicians and medical insurance, or the lack thereof. To help meet Blitz’s mounting medical bills, the CBGB community rallied with a four-day event, the Blitz Benefit (please, don’t call it “Punk Woodstock”). With a t-shirt created by the Ramones’ design guru, Arturo Vega, and more than 30 bands performing, it was a heartfelt outpouring of help and money for one of our own.

Billy Blitz, Johnny’s brother, recalled being just a teenager when his brother was stabbed. “I was in Cleveland so it was all new to me,” he said. “When I got to New York for the benefit, Stiv Bators [lead singer of the Dead Boys] and Tish Bellomo picked me up. They were shooting moons out the car window on the way to the club. I couldn’t believe it!” Keep Reading »

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Nightclubbing | Dead Kennedys

Pat Ivers and Emily Armstrong continue sorting through their archives of punk-era concert footage as it’s digitized for the Downtown Collection at N.Y.U.’s Fales Library. Today, they look back on the N.Y.C. debut of the Dead Kennedys.

Jello Biafra (Credit: Emily Armstrong)

Jello Biafra (Credit: Emily Armstrong)

For die-hard NYC punks, the West Coast seemed a little daunting. It was so bright! But in the fall of 1979, we went to Los Angeles to be on a panel at an early MTV music video conference. We stayed at the Tropicana Hotel, which was the preferred accommodation for traveling rockers. Jim Morrison and Tom Waits had lived there – on this trip, it was Nina Hagen and The Slits hanging at the pool. Keep Reading »