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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 »

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Nightclubbing | Stilletto Fads

Tomorrow, as part of the CBGB Festival, Pat Ivers and Emily Armstrong will discuss the Downtown Collection’s recent acquisition of their Nightclubbing archive of punk-era concert footage. In this week’s installment of their column for The Local, they speak with Tish and Snooky Bellomo, who will be playing with the Sic F*cks tonight at Bowery Electric and tomorrow at Fontana’s. That band was hardly the only one the Bellomo sisters had a hand in.

Tish and Snooky Bellomo (Courtesy Manic Panic)

In the beginning, there was the Stillettos: Debbie Harry, Elda Stilletto and Roseanne Ross. As flashy and trashy as glam bands got, they played CBGBs so early in the game that the Ramones opened for them. By 1975, Debbie Harry had gone on to form Blondie. Elda transformed the Stillettos into the Stilletto Fads, with Tish and Snooky Bellomo as back up singers.

The Bellomos were no strangers to the CBGB scene. “We used to come down to the city from Riverdale,” said Tish. “We would hide our ‘subway’ shoes in some hedges outside of Max’s and CBGB and change into our cool stilettos and rock-and-roll wear before we went in, then change back on the train on our way back to the Bronx so we wouldn’t scare the neighbors.” Their fashion sense paid off: realizing how hard it was for New Yorkers to get the cool tight black pants that English kids wore, they used $500 to open Manic Panic on St. Marks Place in 1977. “Sometimes, we only made a $2.50 sale all day,” recalled Snooky, “but everyone would drop by, so you almost didn’t care. It was a while before we started making any money.”

Meanwhile, they sang with the Sic F*cks – at CBGBs, Max’s, Mudd Club theme nights, and wherever fun was to be had – and with the Stilletto Fads. Keep Reading »

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Nightclubbing | The Dead Boys

Pat Ivers and Emily Armstrong are sifting through their voluminous archive of punk-era concert footage as it’s digitized for the Downtown Collection at N.Y.U.’s Fales Library. Here’s this week’s trip down memory lane, starting with a word form Jeff Magnum, bassist for the Dead Boys.

Stiv Bators (Credit: Emily Armstrong/Nightclubbing)

Stiv Bators (Credit: Emily Armstrong/Nightclubbing)

I was working in a record store, it was horrible. Farmers would come in demanding John Denver, or say, “Do you have that record they play on the radio…” But at least there was Rocket From the Tombs. They were the only good band in Cleveland in the early 1970s, and I went to see ’em play a lot! I heard they were breaking up but they were playing one last gig (Bators and Cheetah were gonna start a new band). I went to that last gig and I walked up to Cheetah, who I never met, and told him, “I’m the bass player yer lookin’ for!” That new band was called Frankenstein (Bators, Cheetah, Blitz, Zero, and me).” [In 1976, the band left for New York without Magnum, and booked a gig at CBGBs. They came back for him, and returned to the city as the Dead Boys.] We went on this 20-hour car ride, the whole time them telling me how great it will all be, that they had a place and that we would be playing at the greatest club in the world. I got to the club and said, “What a shit-hole.” But it became our living room. We were there every night and when we played, we kicked ass.— Jeff Magnum

The Dead Boys held a special status at CBGBs. They were managed by the club’s owner, Hilly Krystal, and played there more than any other band. Keep Reading »

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Nightclubbing | A Night at CBGBs

The Local is pleased to launch a regular column in which Pat Ivers and Emily Armstrong sift through their voluminous archive of punk-era concert footage as it becomes part of the Downtown Collection at N.Y.U.’s Fales Library. They’ll share their favorite stories and clips along the way.

The Nightclubbing archive.

The Nightclubbing archive.

Pat: On a hot sticky night in July, 1975, I began videotaping punk bands at CBGBs. It was during the CBGB Rock Festival of Unrecorded Bands, with 40 groups that formed the core of the nascent music scene downtown. I was part of Metropolis Video, a video collective of eight, most of whom worked at MCTV’s public access department. That first night, we shot Blondie (still doing some covers, like the Velvets, Femme Fatale), the Talking Heads on their third or fourth gig out of RISD, and the Heartbreakers, a downtown super group with Richard Hell, who had just left Television, and Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan of the Dolls. It was their first Manhattan date. It was exciting and we shot now and then for about a year but the center would not hold and the collective dissolved.

Luckily, I met Emily Armstrong and after a night seeing Patti Smith at CBs, she agreed to work with me and a new partnership was formed. Our first band was the Dead Boys in 1977 and we continued for the next four years, often at CBs but also at other clubs like Max’s, Hurrah’s, Mudd Club, and Danceteria.

Emily: Now 32 years later, N.Y.U.’s Fales Library is making everything new again. The Downtown Collection is preserving and restoring the Nightclubbing archive of nearly 100 musical performances, 20-plus interviews, video art projects and more. It will be available for scholars (yes!) to rifle through and enjoy. I hope they do – I know I did. Keep Reading »