Photo of the day: DEBBIE HARRY, CHRIS STEIN, BLONDIE, EARTHA KITT AND HANS – 35 YEARS LATER – or “How a Russian, an old concert ticket and Eartha Kitt got me to meet Blondie” – Last night one of music’s most influential and iconic duo, Chris Stein & Debbie Harry of “Blondie” gave a very rare 90 minute audience participation interview about their lives and the formation of “Blondie” the new wave group that we all know. All you need to hear is Debbie’s “oooohh oh oh-oh” from “Heart of Glass” and you recognize it instantly. The venue – The 92nd Street ‘Y’.
I brought with me my 1979 Blondie concert tickets from Asbury Park’s Convention Hall for the then expensive price of $8.50. ‘The Laughing Dogs’ opened for them. On the day of the concert my friend Susan and I begged the promoters not to tear our tickets so as to preserve them and they obliged! In today’s times that would never happen. So, I showed up at the ‘Y’ stage door last night at 5:30 for the 8:00 show. The Ebayers all started showing up. “She doesn’t like to pose with people.” OK, I thought, a photo is out, autograph is the main goal then.
One of the security guards saw that I had a very rare French 12″LP of ‘Sunday Girl’ with me and was eager to see it. He winds up showing me his record collection on his iPhone, proudly exclaiming he knew all the songs on his records and that they are in mint condition. “Do you have this one?!” “Remember that one?” The last one he showed me was Eartha Kitt’s first lp “That Bad Eartha”, I told him that I had been friends with her and the stories she had told me of making that first album, well…that sealed the deal. “Come back after the show,” he said.
At 7:20 a black town car pulled up and she emerged. Hair in curlers, radiant as can be. Rushed right in. Her driver told me she was exhausted, fighting a cold and was unnerved that she did not know who the interviewer was.
A few moments later Chris Stein pulled up willing to sign a few autographs. The Ebayers pressed forward. The ‘record collector’ security guard made room for me. I showed Chris my 1979 concert tickets and he laughed and said ‘you deserve an autograph after all this time!’. In he went.
Debbie’s driver and I wound up being all alone at the stage door and he started to tell me about his life. He is a Russian scientist who immigrated here in 1989, became a Wall Street trader but lost it all in the stock market crash. He decided to take his knowledge and educate his daughter on the principles of science and economics. She is now graduating with a Masters Degree in physics. We spoke of politics, America’s influence on music, only to discover he sold his piano and bought and electric guitar and knows the riffs to all the hard core rock bands of the 60’s and 70’s and starting playing air guitar for me – Blondie’s chauffeur is playing air guitar for me – surreal !
The interview was conducted by Anthony DeCurtis, co-author of Clive Davis’ autobiography. Chris in his white hair, all black suit and boots, wearing blackout shades he evoked the 1980’s all over again. Debbie looked stunningly radiant. Her now coifed hair had transformed her into a luminescent modern day Marilyn Monroe, same color, same tossed soft curls. She was dressed in a white cotton blouse with parachute style yellow shawl, tuxedo pants and combat boots. Total Blondie.
Speaking of clothes, they explained their original look came from the thrift shops of New York in the early 70’s. “Disco was big lapels, bright colors and we wanted to be the antithesis – the early Beatles black suits with the narrow lapels, secondly also because that shit was the cheapest in the stores and nobody wanted it, now it’s all gone. No one looked like us, we would get stared at in the street in those days.” Debbie laughed.
Debbie’s voice actually has a Marilyn quality, soft spoken, she takes a moment to think before she speaks, and just answers the question, short and to the point yet often reflective. When asked about being the first breakthrough rap recording artist (who happens to be a white female) with the song “Rapture” (the man from Mars is eating cars!) and how did it come about she explained, “I didn’t know the word ‘reggae’ but Chris heard there was this festival going on up in Harlem and we went. I loved that the music and that it had a message, told a story and so connected with the people, I loved the rhythm. We basically stole/copied their style…the rest is history.”
But their influences came from the opposite direction as well, “Dreaming”/(Eat to the Beat) is blatantly lifted from Abba “not enough so I could get sued” chuckled Chris. Debbie said, “yeah I listened to them, but I could never get past that polka-like sound that crept into their music.” She grinned and laughed.
When Debbie laughs or reflects she leans back and pulls her hand through that platinum ‘Marilyn’ hair and as the evening progressed and as the hair became more tossed – she morphed more and more into a 68 year old radiant Blondie/Marilyn.
When asked what rock group from the CBGB era to you feel should have been more recognized, Chris instantly and angrily said “The Ramones, I mean come on, their were fucking brilliant, they should be up there today with the Beatles and The Stones!” What was so great about CBGB’S? Debbie answered: “No one watched you, we just did shit, if we fucked up it didn’t matter and that’s how we evolved, we were not under a microscope.”
How does she feel about being such a music icon? Was she harassed? “It felt great. We weren’t thinking of the future, we were just in the moment. I mean I did wind up becoming a feminist mainly because of Billie Holiday and Janis Joplin. I wanted to get even for those ladies, I felt so sorry for them. ‘Here world take this!’ and here’s to you Billie and Janis. I was never harassed because I was with Chris, the band didn’t lay their hands on me because I was ‘Chris’s girl’. At one point though it did become us versus them, but we got past that.” On meeting Warhol: “We met in passing at Studio 54 and became friends. He was determined to photograph me in 1979, he did my hair for the shoot! He used to shoot with these crappy Polaroid cameras, I mean like the oldest archaic models, so we used to look for them in thrift stores as we toured and would give them to him,” said Debbie. That happened to be the 1979 poster advertising the Warhol Blondie issue that I had brought with me to be signed.
They have just released a new double VINYL lp with re-recorded classic hits as well as 12 new songs. The double albums has two titles “Blondie 4(0) Ever/Ghosts of Download.” Sadly they did not have a signing afterwards. They plan to tour “with festivals” in Europe later this year and tour in the USA in 2015! Chris Stein’s book of awesome photography will go on sale in August. Many of the photos were shown in a slide presentation and they both humorously reminisced about the ‘old times’. Audience questions were taken during the last 20 minutes and were very insightful.
At the show’s end I ran to the stage door already besieged with Ebayers and fans. Luckily the her driver and the security guard placed me near her car door. As Debbie noticed the Ebayers had pressed forward she didn’t want to sign anymore but her driver and the guard steered her towards me and both the guard and I said simultaneously “He’s/I’m not an Ebayer!”. Debbie looked, warmly smiled at me, squeezed my hand and signed her full name unlike the initials she had dome for the others. I floated on an ‘Atomic’ cloud all the way home. Here is my incredibly awesome rare signed treasure above – 35 years later!!
BLONDIE 1979 Village Voice ad
May 29, 2014 | Categories: DAILY PHOTOS WITH STORIES OF NEW YORK CITY | Tags: "Dreaming"/(Eat to the Beat), "Heart of Glass", "Rapture", 'The Laughing Dogs, 1979, 92nd Street "Y", Abba, Andy Warhol, Anthony DeCurtis, Asbury Park's Convention Hall, Blondi rare interview, Blondie, Blondie and reggae, Blondie Ticketron 1979 tickets, CBGB's, celebrities, Chris Stein, Debbie Harry, Debbie Harry on Billie Holiday and Janis Joplin, Dreaming" Blondie is copy of Abba, Eartha Kitt, entertainment, first mainstream rap song, Hans Von Rittern, how the, how the Blondie look evolved, Janis Joplin, Manhattan, Marilyn Monroe, New York City, New York photo, Photo of the day, photography, Richard Bernstein, Studio 54, The Ramones, Warhol Blondie, Warhol photographing Debbie Harry, Warhol's Interview | 4 Comments
Mondays on Memory Lane: THE PALLADIUM DISCO “EVERY DAY IS GAY PRIDE DAY” – June is world wide Gay Pride month. One of the last great dance palaces of the disco era was the grand Palladium which every Sunday catered to an almost all gay audience. Owned and operated by the former Studio 54 masterminds Ian Shrager and Steve Rubell. It was one of the last clubs I attended around 1986 before “it just wasn’t fun anymore.”
The Palladium was converted from a movie theater to a music venue and then into a nightclub. The famous duo hired Danceteria DJ Richard Sweret, who saw the possibility of a much larger audience for a downtown New Wave, Euro and house music-oriented club. From its celebrity-studded opening in May 1985, through the end of the 1980’s, it was one of the major features on a vibrant New York club scene. The club was a mainstay on the New York club scene until it was bought out in 1997 by the voracious appetite of New York University (NYU) and demolished for a sterile campus housing project. They have continued to destroy New York ever since.
Junior Vasquez’s Arena party, held Saturday nights and all day Sundays at Palladium between September 1996 and September 1997, was one of the most popular parties in the New York club scene at the time. Although the promoters billed Arena as “The Gay Man’s Pleasure Dome”, the party drew an eclectic mix of gay and straight from Manhattan and far beyond. 14th Street in those days was still seedy and therefore the attraction to gain entrance into the club as you bypassed the bums in the adjoining urine stenched doorways was ‘chic’ and daring.
1986 Palladium party invitation
The Palladium represented architect Arata Isozaki’s transformation of a vacant and rundown theater, originally built in 1927 as the Academy of Music, into an extraordinary interior that can only be described as a sleek new structure, the equivalent of a seven-story building using more than 200 tons of steel, within the restored grandeur of the original shell. After the conversion from a venue to a club, the main dance floor of the Palladium was a huge space which used to hold the theater and seating. One interesting feature of the club was the large banks of TV monitors in grid formations that were used to display music vidoes. Each monitor could operate separately, or one large picture could be shown across the grid – we had never seen such technology before and it was mesmerizing to us at the time.
The entire gigantic cavernous club was big enough to hold different areas, the equivalent of three or four clubs! Besides the pounding main dance floor area there was a multicolored basement, and the famous upstairs “VIP room”, The Michael Todd Room. Murals were created for this space by the well known New York artists of the 1980s Jean-Michel Basquit, Francesco Clemente, Kenny Scharf and Keith Haring – these treasures are gone.
The video links below will show you the 1980’s grandeur it once was.
A rare visual tour into the past of The Palladium: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t5_NI2MSmp8
MTV music video A. Snap – The Power B. Technotronic – This beat is Technotronic: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vUdbX4B-74s
June 3, 2013 | Categories: DAILY PHOTOS WITH STORIES OF NEW YORK CITY | Tags: "The Gay Man's Pleasure Dome", "VIP room", 14th street, 1927 the Academy of Music, 1980's, architect Arata Isozaki, architecture, arts, Danceteria DJ Richard Sweret, Downtown Julie Brown, downtown New Wave, entertainment, Euro, fashion, Francesco Clemente, gay club scene, Gay Pride, Greenwich Village, Hans Von Rittern, house music-oriented club, Ian Shrager, Jean-Michel Basquit, Junior Vasquez's Arena party, Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf, large banks of TV monitors, Manhattan, MTV music video, music vidoes, New York City, New York photo, New York University (NYU), PALLADIUM DISCO, Snap - The Power - Technotronic, Steve Rubell, Studio 54, Sunday gay party night, the end of the disco era, The Michael Todd Room, vidoes of club, vint\ge video club scene | 2 Comments
Mondays on Memory Lane: 1981-2103 ONE NIGHT ONLY AT THE RITZ WITH HOLLY WOODLAWN
– Thirty three years ago I saw advertised in the local underground magazines that Andy Warhol’s outrageous transgender star Holly Woodlawn was to appear in Terrence McNally’s play ‘The Ritz” co-starring then infamous gay porn star Cal Culver better known as Casey Donovan. The show was at Xenon Disco, the strong competition to Studio 54 at the time. Xenon (as Studio 54 was) was also inside an old Broadway theater with huge pinball bumpers that came down from the ceiling that you had to bump with your hip so that alarm bells would go off, part of the current ‘the bump’ dance craze.
‘The Ritz’ was based on Bette Midler’s 1971 unusual meteoric rise to fame in the gay bathhouse ‘The Continental Baths’ owned by Steve Ostrow in the Ansonia Hotel. The Broadway play garnered Rita Moreno (as third rate Puerto Rican actress wannabe ‘Googie Gomez’) a Tony award and her role was reprised in the hilarious 1976 film.
The fact that Holly Woodlawn, herself Puerto Rican, certainly not ‘third rate’ but campy as hell, was performing in this play had me immediately buy tickets for the first night of previews (I couldn’t wait for opening night!). The show was a perfect fit for Holly and she was hilarious. After the show we danced the night away, in the early morning hours, on my way out of the disco I tore this poster off the wall – unbeknownst to me at the time, the show opened and closed that same night due to lack of funding.
For those of you too young to know who Holly is, but the name still sounds familiar, singer Lou Reed refers to Holly Woodlawn in his iconic song “Walk on the Wild Side
,” in the opening lyric “Holly came from Miami, Florida.” Her antics and connections to a now much revered Andy Warhol past are legendary. I seem to be the only one who remembers that when iconic 1960’s/70’s music club Trude Heller’s at 418 6th Avenue (SE corner of 9th Street and 6th Avenue) started placing hand prints of the famous performers on their sidewalk, Holly placed her ass prints in the side walk. The block was framed and hung on the side of the club.
AIDS and changing tastes wiped out this entire glorious and glamorous era and the people and it’s clubs simply disappeared. But there is one of the few tough survivors – Holly Woodlawn. I was stunned and excited to receive a notice that she was going to make a super rare appearance at the Laurie Beecham Theater (Joan Rivers’ fav hangout) on Friday, May 17. I bought a ticket immediately and sat 2nd row. I brought with me my theater posters of Holly’s shows such as ‘The Neon Woman’, Women Behind Bars’ – both starring drag legend Divine. But my ultimate treasure is the one night only appearance of ‘The Ritz’. The posters caused quite a stir amongst her fans and old friends, taking pictures of them with their iPhones. Then 7:30 came, the lights were lowered and out she came, thirty three years after I had seen her – Holly.
She is the embodiment of a survivor! Now battling near crippling spinal stenosis, it was heartwarming yet hard to watch her cheerfully be helped on stage by two of her friends. “I am home!” she cried. Now 66, nothing else had changed, the sly wink, the double entendres, the off-the-wall humor, and above all, the immense amount of love streaming between her and her audience. She is sharp as a tact. Funny, irreverent, reflective and above all determined to have a good time. It was a mutual love fest. With no disrespect meant to either women but Holly has sort of morphed into long gone comedian Totie Fields. It was endearing. After the show she was helped from the stage in her wheel chair and her long time friends such as actress Brenda Bergman and fans surged towards her, some wanting autographs, some a photo and some just to recall one of the incredible Warhol days with her. She was able to sign only one autograph and she chose my ultra rare poster, “I can’t do it so well you know, Hans is your name? You know I am part German too,” she said with a determined smile. I was left speechless as I watched her struggle to lovingly sign my poster in hot pink ink. In that moment I was transported back to that first night of previews of “The Ritz”, I could hear “You’ll be swell, you’ll be great! Gonna have the whole world on a plate.” Holly Woodlawn does have the whole world on her plate – and I was lucky enough to be at her feast!
“The Ritz” The farce is set in a gay bathhouse in Manhattan, where unsuspecting heterosexual Cleveland businessman Gaetano Proclo has taken refuge from his homicidal mobster brother-in-law, Carmine Vespucci. There Gaetano stumbles across an assortment of oddball characters, including a rabid chubby chaser, go-go boys, a squeaky-voiced detective and Googie Gomez, a third-rate Puerto Rican entertainer with visions of Broadway glory who mistakes him for a famous producer and whom he mistakes for a man in drag. Further complications arise when Gaetano’s wife Vivian tracks him down and jumps to all the wrong conclusions about his sexual preferences.
May 20, 2013 | Categories: DAILY PHOTOS WITH STORIES OF NEW YORK CITY | Tags: 'the bump' dance craze, 'The Neon Woman', 'The Ritz", 'Women Behind Bars', 1971, 1976, 1981, AIDS, Andy Warhol, Ansonia Hotel, Bette Midler, Brenda Bergman, Cal Culver, Casey Donovan, celebrities, Divine, entertainment, gay bathhouse, gay club, Googie Gomez, Greenwich Village, Hans Von Rittern, Holly Woodlawn, Joan Rivers, Laurie Beecham Theater, Lou Reed, Manhattan, New York City, New York photo, Rita Moreno, Steve Ostrow, Studio 54, Terrence McNally, Tony award, transexual, transgender, Trude Heller's club, Walk on the Wild Side, Xenon disco | 1 Comment
Mondays on Memory Lane – STARBUCKS USED TO BE A NEW YORK DISCO! – At the height of the disco craze, when there was a disco every few blocks in New York City, themes became the thing to separate a club from the crowd. There were circuses, mermaids, big band swing orchestras, human pin ball fists, ice skating, drag, dancing water fountains, roller skating featured in places such as planetariums, warehouses, garages, factories and even a deserted subway station.
The life span of a club was as follows:
1. Invite the gays and hope it turns into another Studio 54.
2. The straight chic crowd discovers it from their gay friends.
3. The gays leave because it isn’t “in” anymore.
4. The ‘bridge and tunnel crowd’ arrives aka Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens, Staten Island and (god forbid) ‘Jersey’.
5. The death knell “Tito Puente Night”
On Thursday evening, March 26th, 1981, in a (then) deserted section of the city, at 151 East 45th Street between Lexington and Third Avenues – STARBUCKS Disco opened with great fanfare. In order to attract a gay crowd while not wanting to put off and also attract the straight crowd from the beginning, a theme was needed, so rather than leather, glitz or drag – a cowboy theme was chosen, hopefully equally appealing to both gay and straight. Opening night was a mad house.
The old Danny’s Hideaway (above)
The location itself used to be Danny’s Hideaway bar and restaurant containing four floors where newspapermen, cartoonists and magazine editors used to hang out. The new renovation turned the space into a multi-leveled disco with an identity crisis. There was a working fireplace which remained from the old bar still on the first floor. Since they were desperate to attract all crowds, there was a different atmosphere and music on four floors. A slide connected the floors so that you could fly down the chutes from floor to floor. There was a dance floor on every floor—two of which were disco (one of the dance floors was lighted from underneath ala ‘Saturday Night Fever’), one rock and the top floor was country western complete with a mechanical bull! There was DJ Jim Maxwell on the first floor and DJ Dan (pooch) Pucciarelli on the third floor. With no Studio 54 elitist door policy in place, they pretty much let anybody in since they needed to fill such a big space. $15 got you in the door with free drinks all night…yes, free drinks served in tiny plastic cups which completely littered the floor. It was also one of the very few discos that advertised on local TV stations.
What doesn’t work is to mix cowboy boot wearing, plaid shirted country music lovers with platform shoed, bell-bottomed glittery disco dancers and leather clad rockers. It was a disaster. Each floor’s music blasted the music so loud that it thumped through your chest. Imagine hearing Donna Summer, Duran Duran and Alabama blasting in one building at the same time – insane! The gays/chic Manhattan crowd wrote off the club opening night and the disco life cycle was rapidly overnight sped up to step #4 – ‘bridge & tunnel’. Eventually it turned into an after work hangout for the working class and weekends it was dead. The disco/dance crowd wanted to get dressed up and shine on the weekends, not mix with the working stiffs they were trying not to be, inevitably by 1984 Starbucks Disco closed. Today the name Starbucks is synonymous with the world wide caffeine giant it has become with over 20,891+ locations world wide, 13,280+ in the USA and 172 locations in Manhattan…so necessary for their public bathrooms we have come to seek out.
The invitation reads as follows: “STARBUCKS is a multilevel new western restaurant, disco and cabaret. Designed by Renny Reynolds and lighting by Brian Thompson. Complete with Bucky Bronco, haylofts, hay slides, barbecue pit, waterfall, glass elevator, screening room, wood burning fireplaces, skylighted dance floors and an array of futuristic surprises.”
Invitation design by Greg Porto. Artwork by Dain Marcus
April 15, 2013 | Categories: DAILY PHOTOS WITH STORIES OF NEW YORK CITY | Tags: "bridge and tunnel crowd", 'Saturday Night Fever', 151 East 45th Street, 1980's, Alabama, big band swing orchestras, cartoonists and magazine editors, circuses, country western music, cowboy, Dain Marcus, dancing water fountains, Danny's Hideaway bar and restaurant, disco craze, DJ Dan (pooch) Pucciarelli, DJ Jim Maxwell, Donna Summer, drag, Duran Duran, fashion, gay club, Greg Porto, Hans Von Rittern, human pin ball fists, ice skating, Life cycle of a disco, Manhattan, mermaids, New York City, newspapermen, rock music, roller skating, STARBUCKS, Starbucks coffee, STARBUCKS DISCO, Studio 54 | 23 Comments
“Ladies and gentlemen . . . GRACE JONES!” : Thirty four years after the legendary performance of her 1978 concert at Roseland Ballroom, NYC – Grace Jones returned last night and gave what perhaps will go down as one of her most legendary concerts of her career. She has not changed a bit. At 64 years old she is an astoundingly fit statuesque Amazonian creature as she was then. When she asked “Who was here in 1978?” the roar in response was deafening. (I was there that night in 1978). The sold out concert crowd recreated the height of the atmosphere of the divine Studio 54 disco days. Extreme outfits were the norm. Glam, glitz, drag, shock and over the top seemed to be the order of the night.
Grace outdid herself for her die hard fans, even the Hammerstein Ballroom concert performance of July, 2009. She was more animated, loose, filled with naughty adlibs (Grace is obviously an oral sex fan). Roseland’s lighting crew was off their game for which Grace retorted with a flurry of quips, zingers and re-starts of her legendary disco and new wave songs. No dubbing, live for almost 2 hours! “Keepin’ it tight!” It was Grace unleashed.
Every move was a camera pose. Every gesture calculated to cause frenzy and cameras to go wild. She is still a fierce, angry, cocky sexual diva. Her legendary toned body is remarkable, her legs are longer than a Barbie doll’s, her ass firmer that a 30 year old. One of her songs was performed while consistently swirling a hula hoop around her waist and then while continually twirling and moving about the stage she introduced the band – constantly twirling! Lady Gaga, Britney, Madonna, Rhianna, Taylor Swift or any of the young acts today do not have the stamina of this remarkable icon. With a hard pounding rock/reggae beat flavored with disco and new wave, her mega hits did not dissapoint. Ironically called “The Hurricane Tour”, Grace ended in defiance singing “Hurricane” while huge fans blew her about on stage and whipped the crowd into an ecstatic frenzy! The aftermath of this hurricane = euphoria.
October 28, 2012 | Categories: DAILY PHOTOS WITH STORIES OF NEW YORK CITY | Tags: disco, Grace Jones, Hammerstein Ballroom, Hans Von Rittern, hurricane, Manhattan, New York City, October 27 - 2012 concert, reggae, rock music, Roseland Ballroom, Studio 54 | Leave a comment