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.
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.
Ah, the Romance of Junk, of copping it and tying off
and shooting up
and you think
that makes you just as hip as Burroughs
or the Basketball Boy or the aging Mr. Richards
the original Blood Change Boy himself
But can you afford a trip to Switzerland, every six months, dear?
No, you can’t.
The test of great writing is its ability to transcend time and remain relevant and immediate. “Smack Yourself Senseless” is just that. Watch the clip and see for yourself.
Max Blagg was born in England and came to New York in 1971 after a summer of reading Ted Berrigan and Frank O’Hara in London. He was on a quest for adventure, literary success and American girls. He succeeded on all counts.
It is never easy to be a poet – but being a poet in a nightclub? “Reading in places like Tin Pan Alley and the Pyramid, you had a much tougher crowd,” Max recalled, “not the polite ‘listen to navelgazing tedium for an hour without screaming’ type of poetry fan, but a new kind of listener who had maybe never gone to a poetry reading (and in some cases, never would again!). You had to perform this material in order to get it across, so sometimes there was more chest than heart, but just having the opportunity to try it out in these eccentric venues was a challenge and it often turned out pretty well.”“Smack” was a bit of an anomaly for Blagg. Sex, love and women are the topics he most frequently investigates. In collections like “Pink Instrument” and “Licking The Fun Up,” he details every possible aspect of a woman in ways that are deliriously sensual, hilarious and heartfelt. The Gap famously plucked one of his poems for a television ad in the ‘90s. It was sexy, weird and utterly un-Gap. While some in the downtown lit crowd disapproved, “many of them would have killed for the opportunity to do the same thing,” said Blagg.
Max continues to write and perform. He has published four volumes of poetry, and an “embellished memoir,” titled “Ticket Out,” is being shopped to various New York publishing types. Blagg enhances his erratic poetry income with freelance journalism and experimental teaching routines at the New School for Social Research and the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. He has collaborated with numerous artists including Jack Pierson, Donald Sultan and Richard Prince. Currently, he is engaged on a book project with artist Keith Sonnier and an eccentric film with Barney Kulok, featuring Gary Indiana as Truman Capote. And probably, helping the odd damsel in distress. Sometimes, a poem is all a girl needs.
This post originally appeared on The Local East Village.