“I know a lot of you complain about new groups coming in and replacing you,” Ada Calhoun told the crowd of East Villagers and ex-Villagers gathered in Cooper Union’s Great Hall last night. “If you’re not a Lenape Indian, I just don’t have a lot of compassion.”
Behind her was a photo of the area in all of its bucolic splendor, 400 years ago – way before the Pinkberrys and the Red Mangos inspired the tongue-in-cheek title of her new hyperlocal history, St. Marks Is Dead: The Many Lives of America’s Hippest Street.
Last week we introduced you to 13 of the characters that populate the book, some of whom actually showed up last night to watch Calhoun’s husband, Neal Medlyn, front a punk cover band featuring Adam Horovitz (aka Ad-Rock of Beastie Boys fame). With their day-glo dos, Tish and Snooky, founders of Manic Panic, proved to be colorful characters indeed. Also in the house were Jimmy Webb of Trash and Vaudeville, legendary culture jammer and artist Joey Skaggs, and Joyce Hartwell, proprietress of All-Craft Center, who came in all the way in from Albany. Drag king Murray Hill kicked off the show by recounting how he got his start at Coney Island High in 1997.
Calhoun’s pre-show slideshow paid homage to some of the St. Marks habitues you’d expect: poet WH Auden, skateboarder Harold Hunter, jazzman Thelonius Monk, coming out of the Five Spot. But it also included less renowned celebs, like crust punk Joel “LES Jewels” Pakela. “He innovated in the field of, kind of, like, gross behavior,” Calhoun informed. “He invented trash sledding on St. Marks Place, which involved taking a full garbage bag and then just like running down the street and jumping on it and sliding.”
According to Calhoun’s sources, Jewels was cremated after his death in 2013, and salt shakers containing his ashes were handed out to the local street kids. “So when you walk by a crusty punk later tonight,” Calhoun said, nodding up at Lorcan Otway’s photo of LES Jewels being carted away by police, “think that maybe in their pocket they might have…”
Finally, Calhoun got to Mr. Zero, the do-gooder who, after making a big show of feeding the local homeless, left St. Marks Place for South America, owing $7,345 (or about a million dollars today) in back rent. It was this classic East Village character (in the sense of “a man selling a colorful myth about his role in the world that’s more fun than the reality”) that inspired the name of the band, the St. Marks Zeroes.
With The Julie Ruin’s Carmine Covelli holding it down on drums, the outfit ripped through some punk classics, video for which you can see below.
The evening was all about the love (Calhoun’s parents, who’ve lived on St. Marks since the mid-’70s, were in the front row), but then came the moment when Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill tried to kill some time while her husband Ad-Rock was tuning up. “Should I tell everybody how [Ada] saved our marriage?” she asked. Uh-oh. “So, yeah, we were in a big fight and we were going to get divorced and I called Ada. And it was so funny because I was like, I was like, called Ada and spilled my guts to her and she was like, ‘That’s so funny, I’m writing a new book about marriage!’ So, you should get it and hear about the fight because it was pretty outrageous. It was pretty bad.”
The band did a suitably somber version of John Waite’s “Downtown,” after which Hanna told the crowd, “So we were about to get divorced a week ago and now we’re singing together.”
“Wait, we were what?” deadpanned Ad-Rock.
“I didn’t tell you about that whole divorce thing,” she said to him. “I shouldn’t have told you in front of everybody. Um, anyways, but yeah, music can really bring people together.”
And musicians can also save your life. During a breakdown in Lydia Lunch’s “St. Marks Place,” sung by Erin Markey, Horovitz recounted the time he was walking home from legendary after-hours club Save the Robots around 6 a.m., after a Butthole Surfers show at The Ritz. “We’re walking down the street and I see these two kids behind us, teenagers, and one of them had a huge knife — a fucking machete… a big, big knife, and they’re creeping on us and, uh, you know, I don’t know what to do. They’re approaching, approaching, and as they’re approaching a car pulls up in the road and stops at a red light and it’s Gibby Haynes from the Butthole Surfers in a bigass, huge car. ” Needless to say, Ad-Rock jumped in. “The Butthole Surfers saved my life.”
Here’s footage of the tunes.
“Avenue A” by The Dictators:
“Detachable Penis” by King Missile:
“Judy Is a Punk” by Ramones:
“Personality Crisis” by New York Dolls (with Bridget Everett):
“St. Marks Place” by Lydia Lunch (with Erin Markey):
“Downtown” by John Waite:
“Welfare City” by Eugene McDaniels:
Video via loopvids on YouTube.